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In some ways, French artist Orlan resembles many LA women of a certain set. She’s vague about her age. She favors trim black suits. She’s not afraid to undergo a little nip ‘n tuck to improve her God-given form.
A little might be an understatement. In the 1990’s, Orlan underwent a series of plastic surgeries-cum-video performances that reconstructed her face a la Old Masters. In one, she gained Mona Lisa’s forehead; in another, Psyche’s eyes. These days the Art Center prof sports flesh-covered, oblong knobs above her eyebrows – features she adorned with silver glitter for a Tuesday night presentation at UCLA’s Hammer Museum.
Were the bumps unsprouted horns? Embedded transistors? “I apologize for not speaking in English,” she said in a commanding French. “I couldn’t find the batteries for my implants, which allow me to speak in any language.”
We tittered with relief, half expecting the talk, part of UCLA’s ongoing violence symposia, to entangle us in deconstructionist confusion. Not to worry. A performance artist at heart, Orlan’s “carnal art” aims to subvert conventional beauty standards with a lot of ye-uckk and a dose of humor. In one short film, sequined surgeons strip off pieces of her lips (insert audience retching sounds) while she waves a cross and reads Lacanian psychoanalysis.
So what does she think of Socal’s most famous manipulator of the human form?
“The difference between me and Michael Jackson is the difference between someone who paints buildings and someone who makes a beautiful painting,” she said. “We have the same technique, but not at all the same intent.”
Keep an eye out for a future Orlan exhibit at the MOCA.