ORLAN

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° 1947

Lives in Los Angeles (US), lives in New York (US), born in Saint-Etienne (FR), lives in Paris (FR).

ORLAN (°1947) studies painting in the sixties and dives into the French art world with photographic Body Sculptures and performances that focus on her own body as a physical and mythical manifestation of the female.

ORLAN formulates strong gender positions and is keen to achieve precise and clear communication. Her artwork is literal and legible. At the same time, it connects with powerful ‘basic layers’ of human culture, such as myths, rites, body and instincts, which corresponds to what Freud called, in his attempt to categorise the unconscious, Verdichtung and Verschiebung.

ORLAN’s work questions the collective unconscious expectations of what the female body and the female mind should be. In recent years, she has been increasingly identified with her use of surgery, and the changes to her own body as an artistic medium, especially with the videos and the permanent physical results of her Surgery Performances (1986-1993).

Nevertheless, her place in recent art history was already assured by the series of MesuRAGE, performances she started in 1968. Mesurage means 'measuring', while rage can both refer to 'mad rage' and 'doing your best'. The frequent use of easels and pieces of cloth at the beginning of these actions is a clear reference to painting. And it is said that the bed linen fabric comes from ORLAN's trousseau – an equally clear reference to traditional models of femininity.

In the summer of 1980, ORLAN enacted a remarkable performance at the Place Saint-Lambert in the historic city centre of Liège. Over a stretch of four days ORLAN physically committed herself to the preservation of the square, under siege by an ill-considered urban development project. She witnesses the arrival of a bulldozer, the same machine used at the time to demolish the square, and allows it to move her body like rubble from one place to another. Her objective in having herself lowered into the bulldozer's blade is to physically embody a social issue. She looks at her gesture as a resistance at the margins, in a pose that alludes to the Statue of Liberty.

ORLAN uses her own body in these performances to act as a gauge for two types of objects: institutions and streets named after men. The setting of her performances are unique: they are performed without an audience, but rather with witnesses who describe them afterwards. Lying on the ground, ORLAN measures the length of the public space, to be documented after, but also notices the by-products, the dress itself that she is wearing to be washed out after,  with rinse water mingled with dirt that in turn will also be stored. The signature of the witnesses becomes a different final form, and there are forms of memory, and other by-products, e.g., the ORLANcore, a measuring instrument measured to ORLAN's height, or life-size images of her accompanying the presentation of the documents.

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