By Irene van Oorschot
In the 1990s, the French artist Saint-Orlan staged a series of ten invasive cosmetic ‘interventions’, which aimed to radically alter her appearance.
Her face after surgery would be an amalgam of the features of famous (portrayed) women in art-history: Botticelli’s Venus’ chin, Psyche’s nose as painted by Gerome, the lips of Francois Boucher’s europa, Diana’s eyes as painted by an anonymous member of the French school of Fontainebleau, and the forehead of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The operations themselves, moreover, were carefully orchestrated media events that were broadcasted, live, to museums across the world. Orlan herself, under partial anaesthetics only, would lecture her audiences and answer questions during surgery. These reincarnations have received much attention from feminist commentators, who saw this gesture as a liberating way to make use of (largely oppressive) technology, or as a dystopian illustration of the increasingly popular disposition to aggressively mould bodies, and especially female bodies, into shape. Central to the feminist reception of these reincarnations was a concern with the use (and misuse) to which plastic surgery may be put.
This paper is situated in this debate, yet aims to broaden the scope of the discussion to pay attention, too, to what Orlan’s performances suggest about the relationship between technology, the body, and identity in more general terms. It will be argued that their simultaneous engagement with questions of technology, the body, and identity may aid feminists in thinking imaginatively about the future of feminism in the 21st century.
This article by Irene van Oorschot was published originally in Amsterdam Social Science Volume 2 Issue 1 (2010). To read the complete article click here.
Picture credit: creative commons