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Carnal Art

Orlan’s Refacing

2004
Author:

C. Jill O’Bryan

Carnal Art

An in-depth exploration of the surgical performances of the artist Orlan

The French artist Orlan is infamous for performances during which her body is surgically altered. Responding to Orlan’s definition of her performance surgeries as “carnal art,” C. Jill O’Bryan considers how the artist’s ever-fluctuating face questions idealized beauty and female identity, and complicates the notion of identity-and its relation to the body—at the boundary dividing art from identity.

A wonderful contribution to the literature on Orlan and to performance art literature. Smart feminist scholars such as O'Bryan impress me: she is among those who affirm the feminism of controversial, no-party-line women artists whose work some feminist scholars find almost aggressively not-feminist.

Joanna Frueh, author of Monster/Beauty and Erotic Faculties

The French artist Orlan is infamous for performances during which her body is surgically altered. In nine such performance surgeries, features from Greek goddesses painted by Botticelli, Gérard, Moreau, and an anonymous School of Fontainebleau artist, as well as from da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, were implanted into Orlan’s face. During her surgical performances, viewers witness a material tampering with the relationship between the face and individual identity, the original and the constructed, a historical critique of the association of art with beauty and the female body.

Responding to Orlan’s definition of her performance surgeries as “carnal art,” C. Jill O’Bryan considers how the artist’s ever-fluctuating reconstructions of her face question idealized beauty and female identity, persuasively arguing that Orlan’s surgically reinvented face succeeds in both reinforcing and breaking apart corporeal subjectivity and representation. O’Bryan contextualizes Orlan’s operations within the centuries-long history of public dissections and surgeries, lavish anatomical illustrations created to draw the gaze into the opened anatomy, Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty” in the early twentieth century, and contemporary works and performances by Cindy Sherman, Hans Bellman, and Annie Sprinkle.

A compelling blurring of the line between feminist theory and art criticism, O’Bryan’s close examination of Orlan’s performance surgeries complicates and reconfigures the notion of identity—and its relation to the body—at the very boundary dividing art from identity.


Carnal Art

C. Jill O’Bryan is an independent scholar and artist who has written and lectured widely on Orlan in particular and body art in general.

Carnal Art

A wonderful contribution to the literature on Orlan and to performance art literature. Smart feminist scholars such as O'Bryan impress me: she is among those who affirm the feminism of controversial, no-party-line women artists whose work some feminist scholars find almost aggressively not-feminist.

Joanna Frueh, author of Monster/Beauty and Erotic Faculties

Fascinating and well-illustrated.

Contemporary Theatre Review

This book is invaluable.

Theory & Event

Through this volume we can appreciate the tremendous scope of Orlan’s work.

Theory & Event

Jill O’Bryan’s book is a major contribution to scholarship on Orlan’s work.

Theory & Event

Carnal Art

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Shape-Shifting

1. Orlan’s Body of Work
2. Looking inside the Human Body
3. Between Self and Other
4. Interior/Exterior
5. Beauty / The Monstrous Feminine
6. Penetrating Layers of Flesh: Carving in/out the Body of Orlan
7. A Few Comments on Self-hybridations EXTRActions: A Performative Dialogue “with” Orlan

Notes

Index