ORLAN. SIX DECADES in the Vertical Gallery


The VERBUND COLLECTION shows the first exhibition of the renowned French artist ORLN in Austria and also publishes the first German-language monograph on her work.

In the 1990s, ORLAN caused a sensation with the surgical performance interventions on her own body. On the other hand, her early work remained virtually unknown. The retrospective show ORLAN. SIX DECADES, which comprises around 50 artworks, therefore focuses on the 1960s and 1970s and also spans the years to works of the present day. It is being held in the Vertical Gallery.

The portfolio by ORLAN, born in Saint-Étienne in 1947, spans six decades. There is hardly any other female artist who has exposed herself so radically to the general public. Her performances reflect the cultural, political and social conditions under which the female body had to assert itself.

In 1964, at just 17 years of age, she created ORLAN accouche d'elle-m'aime (ORLAN gives birth to her beloved self), an important photograph for her artistic career. ORLAN stages herself simultaneously as subject and object. She gives birth to her second form, her artistic self, and thus determines her new identity. ORLAN sees this staged photograph, as she herself says, as being a "turning point in my life". She is creating herself, rejecting the notion that a woman has to be a wife and mother, and begins to develop an awareness of what it means to show appreciation for oneself, a concept that women of that time were rarely, if ever, accorded in public. ORLAN shares the feeling of being a women stuck in social conventions and wanting to break out of them with many female artists of the Feminist Avant-Garde. The wish to overcome the imposed system of norms is also evident in her photograph Tentative de sortir du cadre (Attempting to escape the frame) of 1966. The work makes a strong statement: she is seen stepping out of a historic picture frame with her whole body. With her rebellious spirit, ORLAN announces her intention to overcome the tradition of art history and break new ground. Literally falling out of the frame now becomes a programmatic aspect of her art. In these years, ORLAN experiments unconventionally and impressively with the female body as sculpture (Body Sculpture series). 

In the 1970s, she completes the break from her given name. She retains the syllable "OR", which means gold in French", and adds "LAN" to it. Her self-chosen name, written exclusively in capital letters, cannot be assigned to any particular gender. Groundbreaking actions arise in the 1970s: 

From 1974 MesuRAGE, ORLAN measures public institutions and places, like the Vatican in Rome in 1974, with her own body. This is followed by, among others, MesuRAGE in 1977 at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, in 1983 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and in 2012 at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. ORLAN no longer deals with the female body as a private phenomenon, but asserts it as a public presence and defies a male-dominated culture. In 1976, she sells in her action Se vendre sur les marchés en petits morceaux (Selling oneself on the market in little pieces) parts of her body, such as arm, ear or breast on a market "without preservatives and with a purity guarantee" and focuses humorously on the virginity promoted by the church and on the problem of the corruptibility of women's bodies. 

In her performance Le Baiser de l'Artiste (The kiss of the artist), in which she offers a kiss for sale for 5 francs at the 1977 FIAC art fair at the Grande Palais in Paris, ORLAN decries two stereotypes that women are constantly exposed to: the saint and the prostitute. Le Baiser de l'Artiste is one of the most daring artistic actions of the 20th century and causes a scandal that results in the artist being on the receiving end of hostility, losing her position as a teacher and suddenly being without an income. 

ORLAN debates the traditional presentation of the woman in the visual arts, which is part of our cultural consciousness, and queries the canon of art history, such as in the photograph ORLAN en Grande Odalisque d'Ingres (ORLAN as a grand odalisque in the style of Ingres) of 1977, or with variations on The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.

Gabriele Schor, curator and founding director of the VERBUND COLLECTION, explains: "ORLAN's early work radically reflects the position of the woman in society and scrutinises the presentation of the female body in traditional art. The early work makes clear that the artist is an outstanding representative of the Feminist Avant-Garde, the primary concern of which is to deal with the so-called "private" as a political category." 
In the 1980s, ORLAN deals intensively with the Baroque period. Inspired by Lorenzo Bernini, she stages herself as the Madonna in various poses and creates impressive "fold sculptures". Against the background of Baroque light and shade effects, the connection between sculpture and architecture, as well as lavish fold designs, ORLAN illustrates the duality of good and evil as a symbol of the Baroque. At the same time, she works with the newest technological achievements and so, with the arrival of the copier, numerous colourful collages are created.

In 1989, she converts Gustave Courbet's painting L'Origine du monde into L'Origine de la guerre by replacing the vulva with the phallus. 

In her 1989 manifest L'Art Charnel (Carnal Art), ORLAN writes down the theoretical basis of her surgical performance interventions, which she carried out nine times between 1990 and 1993. With local anaesthetic, pain-free and fully conscious, she uses her own body as artistic material: "I deform myself in order to reform myself into someone else." The surgical performance interventions oppose not aesthetic surgery, but aesthetic norms and ideals of beauty which stipulate a conformism that manifests itself in female bodies. ORLAN throws up an important question with these performances: Who decides what a face, a female body should look like? On what standards is our concept of beauty based? For her, it is therefore about deciding for herself what she wants to look like and not succumbing to any aesthetic norm. 

From the 2000s, ORLAN's artworks deal increasingly with topics from the fields of biotechnology and robotics, and make use of technologies such as Augmented Reality and video animation. In a video work in 2013, she shows her skinned body as a medical model, before using an Augmented Reality app in 2014 to create an image series that gives rise to ORLAN avatars, which come alive in the exhibition spaces. In 2018, she dedicates herself to the sphere of artificial intelligence and the talking AI robot ORLAN-oïde. 

The exhibition in the Vertical Gallery concludes with women's portraits from 2019. In reference to the classic depiction of women as muses, ORLAN crosses her own portrait with works by Pablo Picasso, thereby creating angry and crying figures of women in an ironically poppy style. 

Christina Kastner

Curatorial assistant

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Ingun Metelko Ingun Metelko

Company Spokesperson

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ORLAN. Six Decades

The exhibition ORLAN. SIX DECADES in the Vertical Gallery of the VERBUND COLLECTION.

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