Other Scenarios. Contemporary Art Icon ORLAN in Riga
The exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design will run until the 25th of January, 2015. According to the curator of the exhibition, Inese Baranovska: “The objective of the exhibition is to present one of the most controversial and provocative personalities at the contemporary art scene, who has declared her body an instrument of art, and only identifies herself with the pseudonym ORLAN that she herself invented.”
“The diverse creative work of the artist (performances, happenings, photography, video, installations, sculptures, biotechnological experiments, literary texts, etc.) is impossible to classify and put on one particular shelf of “-isms”, her art skilfully balances classical tradition and innovative challenges, historical heritage and the latest scientific achievements, the pinnacles of intellectual art and the popular culture.”
Inese Baranovska emphasises that ORLAN, being at the forefront of contemporary art, has never cut the “umbilical cord” with the legacy of classical art. Her work includes numerous references to and parallels with the antique world and the aesthetics of medieval and renaissance art, baroque and surrealism.
There also are the conditional forms of the carnival ritual as well as, obviously, the well-known, but not yet completely mastered, phenomenon of celluloid – the real and relative film world.
“Le Plan du Film and Other Scenarios” in Riga
Cinema is one of the areas where the artist feels at home, and one of the subjects of her research in the unique project “Le Plan du Film and Other Scenarios” that ORLAN brings to Riga.
The project goes back to the 1990s, but the artist will take it through a new series of changes at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design.
“The artist continues the process of self-creation, a process that is comparable to mutations of modern science and biotechnological experiments, as well as to baroque mysteries. The colourful, densely figurative retro-style compositions created by a professional painter of film posters (a trade that no longer exists in Europe), based on the artist’s collages made of her artwork, present reverse transformation: works that were created with the help of various contemporary technologies are used to create works in traditional painting techniques: away from the new and back to the old,” says the curator of the exhibition.
“ORLAN – the central and main character in all the works – levitates between reality and fantasy, the past and the future, proclaiming, loftily, that the life is like a film script – or vice versa.”
The textual group “Orbīta”, an association of Russian-speaking poets, photographers, musicians and multimedia artists in Latvia, and graphic designer Valters Verners are involved in ORLAN’s exhibition in Riga by creating texts that advertise non-existing films. This seemingly traditional and self-explanatory element of a promotional campaign for a film becomes a mystery, through countless surreal changes. Eventually, the artist, the authors of the texts, and exhibition visitors become all involved in a kind of a dichotomous process.
For the occasion of the exhibition, the Latvian National Museum of Art in collaboration with the publisher “Neputns” are releasing a richly illustrated catalogue in Latvian, French and English (224 pages). The catalogue has been created by Inese Baranovska, design is by Inga Ģībiete, it was printed by Jelgava publishing house.
The project will also take place in other locations of Riga: during the “Staro Rīga” festival of light, an impressive multimedia sound and light installation ORLAN CITY will be on show on Skārņu Street near the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, accompanying the exhibition at the museum. The project is implemented in co-operation with the Society for Attractive Urban Environment (Pievilcīgās pilsētvides biedrība).
In addition to the exhibition, there will be several events featuring the artist herself: a press conference at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design on the 6th of November at 12 noon, a free public lecture at the Art Academy of Latvia on the 6th of November at 4 p.m. (with simultaneous translation in Latvian), and public discussion “Art & Film” at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design on the 8th of November at 3 p.m.
About Saint ORLAN
ORLAN, born in the French town of Saint-Étienne, is one of the most provocative artists of today, always pushing the traditional boundaries between classical art and technological innovation, academic values and elements of popular culture, the beautiful and the ugly, male and female perceptions, etc. By proclaiming her body an instrument of art, ORLAN has built a universe of personal iconography that encompasses the broad spectrum of the artist’s unique exploits: unforgettable performances, photographs, video projects, installations and multimedia projects. The artist took the name ORLAN when she was still a teenager, which was later reflected in the photo series “ORLAN Gives Birth to Her Loved Self” (1964) that, defying the laws of nature and social norms, symbolically demonstrated the birth of the artist’s new identity that combined both male and female sexes.
One of the turning points in the creative biography of ORLAN is the advent of Saint ORLAN. In 1971, ORLAN proclaimed herself a saint, opening a new chapter in her artistic life. The subsequent performances and photo series explored the two natures of Madonna: White Virgin who symbolised woman as a mother, and Black Virgin – woman as a prostitute, reflecting the two trivialised perceptions of “fairer sex” created by men. During her performance “Striptease From Madonna to Whore” (1974), ORLAN slowly strips to reveal the duality within one image, announcing that Madonna is a whore, and vice versa.
In a reference to the great Italian artist Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini’s iconic work “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” (1651), Saint ORLAN appeared draped in baroque-era garments of black vinyl and white latex, creating an image closely resembling the emotional exaltation of the baroque sculpture.
She refuses to be a holy martyr – ORLAN protests against the practice of religion to deny the worldly joys, sensuality, and the body as the subject of scientific research.
Much like the mythological Amazons, ORLAN bares her breast, visualising one of the principles stated in the “Manifesto of Carnal Art” that reverses the biblical idea of the word made flesh – the flesh is made word, believes the artist.
Project “The Reincarnation of Saint ORLAN” in 1990 was the first in ORLAN’s series of surgery-performances, where the artist declared her body to be the material for artistic expression. The goal in these surgeries is to acquire the ideal of female beauty as depicted by male artists and on account of the stories associated with them. When the surgeries are complete, ORLAN will have the chin of Sandro Botticelli’s Venus (fertility), the forehead of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (androgyny), the eyes of the Roman goddess Diana (aggression, rebelliousness) from a 16th century painting, the lips of François Boucher’s Europa (adventurous outlook on future), and the nose of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Psyche (desire for love and spiritual beauty).
The idea of surgery-performances came in 1978 when ORLAN, while preparing for a major performance at the Lyon Biennale, was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery – she was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy and the non-viable foetus had to be removed. She was accompanied by a video operator who had to capture the entire operation on film. ORLAN chose to remain conscious throughout the surgery, opting for local anaesthesia and morphine. The surgery inspired the artist’s further work, the main principles of which were the individual’s relations with nature, the concept of beauty and the opposite sex.
Some ten years later, on her 43rd birthday, the artist went under the knife again, this time at her own initiative, to create a new, hybridised “self-portrait”. She called the series of the surgery-performances “The Reincarnation of Saint ORLAN”.
“The body is my language and the vessel to convey my beliefs,” ORLAN told Inese Baranovska, the head of the museum and the curator of the exhibition “Le Plan du Film and Other Scenarios” while the exhibition was being organised.
The most famous, seventh surgery-performance “Omniprésence” took place in New York in 1993. During the operation, ORLAN’s forehead was changed to mimic the protruding brow of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – with the help of two implants usually used to enhance cheekbones. The two symmetrical lumps on her forehead have since become one the trademark features of ORLAN.
From 1990 to 1993 ORLAN had a total of nine plastic surgeries. The artist states in her manifesto (see here) that she is “not interested in the plastic surgery result, but in the process of surgery”, and that she strives for pleasure and sensuality, not pain. The operating table became a theatre where ORLAN’s performances were staged. The costumes she wore during the surgeries were created by such famous designers as Paco Rabanne and Issey Miyake. At some of the surgeries, poetry was read, or an instrumental ensemble played music. Each performance was captured on film and video, some of them were broadcast live in galleries.
ORLAN is the first artist to make surgical operations part of her artistic arsenal.
The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design is located in the Old Town at Skārņu iela 10/20. The exhibition “Le Plan du film and Other Scenarios” will be on show until the 25th of January, 2015.
ORLAN’s exhibition is part of the “Riga Carnival” thematic line of the “Riga 2014” Programme. The project has been organised in co-operation with the French Institute in Latvia.