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My week with ORLAN

Image: ORLAN (right), Author's own photograph

ORLAN was recently in London, and myself and Clara Krzentowski were assigned to look after her for the week. ORLAN (she writes everything in capitals, even texts) is a feminist body and perfor-mance artist most widely known for her surgery performance art, in which she had various cos-metic surgery operations to disrupt the ideas and ideals of beauty.

We picked her up from the Eurostar terminal, completely recognisable with her half white, half black hair and glitter-clad temple implants. She is in London for press conferences and the opening of the new blockbuster exhibition Botticelli Reimagined at the V&A, as well as meeting Chicks on Speed to write material for their collaborative record and tour. While she is in London, ORLAN wants to visit the best galleries and exhibitions on the scene - she is incredibly interested in keep-ing up with contemporary practice and display. “I only want to see contemporary and new”, in-sistent on finding the most on-trend galleries in Mayfair. She particularly enjoyed the Neoliberal Lulz exhibition at Carroll/Fletcher, exhibiting Jennifer Lyn Morone and the french duo Emilie Brout & Maxime Marion. She is excited by the use of subversive tactics, concepts of identity and per-sonal branding that these artists employ.

What strikes me about ORLAN’s approach to viewing and thinking about art is her quick judge-ment, she knows what is interesting in seconds. She is insistent on all art being political and looks for political substance in each piece. “It is fine to have art that is just beautiful, that is for your home, for decoration. But real art must be political, it must tell me something.” ORLAN shows opti-mism towards current practice, suggesting that our current political climate must produce an abun-dance of politically charged work. When walking around the Mark Wallinger exhibit at Hauser & Wirth however, her disdain shows. ORLAN tells us that art schools churn out so many graduates, but not enough artists.

ORLAN’s political works surround feminism and identity, and I was surprised to find that her no-tions of femininity and feminism are very traditional. When walking through Betty Woodman’s ex-hibit at the ICA, ORLAN dismissed the work, probably because it’s traditionally feminine qualities and lack of pertinent politics. For me, Woodman’s work can be subversively feminist, or at least tri-umphantly feminine, perhaps for ORLAN, feminism in art must be a recognisable control and own-ership of the artist over their body and thought that is seen in her work. Her current work incorpo-rates technology and scientific techniques to know herself and her body fully. She tells us however, that it is important to embrace technology but always keep a critical distance and rationality to-wards it. In her most recent work, she has adopted a scientific radiography to make 3D images of her skull and skeleton. With this work (and many in her oeuvre), she is exploring the notions of self-portraiture and body positions in society, under cultural, political and religious pressures.

ORLAN is exhibiting work in the Botticelli Reimagined show at the Victoria and Albert Museum, open 5 March - 3 July.

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