saint orlan

September 12 - November 02, 2019

New York

Artist : ORLAN

 Ceysson & Bénétière is pleased to present SAINT ORLAN, the first comprehensive solo exhibition of ORLAN’s work in New York since 1995. Opening on September 12, 2019 and remaining on view until November 2, 2019. SAINT ORLAN comprises historical works by ORLAN.
ORLAN has been rattling the cage of selfhood and using her body to push back against the weight of the world for more than fifty years. It began with her 1964 photograph ORLAN Gives Birth to Her Beloved Self, the first of many works that function almost as manifestos of reinvention. Showing ORLAN as she gives birth to an androgynous mannequin, the image reads as a fierce declaration of autonomous dignity.
In the 70's, ORLAN produced a series of rarely-exhibited collages in which she combined the visual language of the Baroque with religious iconography and images of herself. The process involved photocopying marble which, not unlike body modification, can be seen as desanctifying a revered material. In the collages, lush folds of fabric recall classical sculpture, but just as quickly bring to mind the folds of Hannah Wilke’s gum, chewed into the likeness of a vulva. In the collages, ORLAN is seen draped in fabric, and comparisons are often made between these images and Bernini’s 17th-century Ecstasy of St. Theresa. Bernini’s sculpture shows St. Theresa at the moment an angel is piercing her heart with a spear, and the work was canonized because of St. Theresa’s inarguably orgasmic demeanor and the pain/pleasure contradictions that it conjures. ORLAN, in her channeling of the body as subject and object, self and other, brings about similar paradoxes.
In her 1979 performance The Draping, The Baroque, ORLAN, adorned in her unabashedly saint-like drapery, was carried by four men, as if in a funeral procession, into Venice’s Palazzo Grassi. There, she performed slowly and over a period of hours, enfolding and unfurling her fabric, at times partially disrobing to expose one breast (again, the saintly and the sexual, she welcomes the contradiction), crawling on the floor in flour, and eventually withdrawing a small bundle resembling a child.
From 1990-1993, ORLAN embarked on what’s become her most famous project—a series of nine plastic surgeries that have collectively come to be known as The Reincarnation of Saint ORLAN. The surgeries were filmed and broadcast live to various art institutions, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris. ORLAN elected only to receive topical anesthesia, and so not only did she remain conscious throughout each procedure, but she read aloud to the viewer during them. The most well-known of such surgeries was one in which ORLAN had two implants—typically used to enhance cheekbones—inserted on either side of her forehead. (These days she often accents these implants with glitter and other eye-catching adornments.) The healing process was also documented, and these images were shown in a work titled Omnipresence. Once again, ORLAN refuses to be stagnant in a dynamic world.

Wallace Ludel, July 2019.

Ceysson & Bénétière gallery is pleased to announce Saint ORLAN, the first exhibition revisiting ORLAN’s work in New York since 1995. The exhibition of this historical and pioneering artist will be held from September 12 to November 2, 2019.

From the beginning of her career, ORLAN has questioned the status of the body—especially the female body—in society; shedding light on the cultural, traditional, political, and religious pressures inflicted on it.

For this exhibition, Ceysson & Bénétière gallery will show collages which have been exhibited only once in Europe by Pierre Restany. ORLAN created these collages at the inception of the photocopier, placing her among the first artists to work with Copy Art. Her compositions were created from marble plates, photocopied on colored paper, which she then cut in an effort to geometrically structure the entire collage and to confront this abstraction with the figurations of her baroque iconography—this can be seen in works such as composition with ecstasy or trilogy in the clouds.

ORLAN has long cited Bernini and baroque iconography in her work, taking great interest in the Ecstasy of St. Theresa, where we see her enjoying the angel’s arrow in an erotic and ecstatic ecstasy (Lacan has explored this scene in depth). Whereas religious doctrine asks us to choose good OR evil, ORLAN has built nearly all of her work around the notion of AND.

ORLAN, like her American counterpart Cindy Sherman, has often dressed herself up, many times with the help of the keychain sheets in documentary studies, such as the work Le Drapé - Le Baroque.

From 1990 to 1993, ORLAN goes further by deciding to use plastic surgery to recreate her own image in order to produce new images in her work. For her, it is important to question the notion of beauty, which is only an injunction of the dominant ideology—geographic and historical—that compel women to look like the models they are designated (working with, among others, the image of Botticelli’s Venus). In 1993, Sandra Gering Inc. Gallery (New York, USA) organized an exhibition and a performance of a surgical operation broadcast by satellite at the gallery, as well as at the Centre Pompidou (Paris, France) and the McLuhan Center (Toronto, Canada). This broadcast was radically ahead of its time as the webcam did not yet exist at the time.

ORLAN asked her surgeon to perform an operation which had never before been performed. By placing implants normally intended to raise the cheekbones on each side of her temples, rejecting the idea of using plastic surgery to enhance beauty.

The two historic photographs were taken in ORLAN’s completely glass hotel room where, from one side she could see the Twin Towers and the from the other, the Woolworth Building.

Each operation was staged, ORLAN dressed in Paco Rabane, Issey Miyakey, and Lan Vu. During the operation, ORLAN read texts, directed the photo and video in the operating which became her studio and where she drew with her bloody fingers, creating self portraits under the influence of medical gas.

Finally, we present, following 23 photographs of her performance at the Palazzo Grassi (1979, Venice, Italy) as part of the interdisciplinary festival of Body Art, ORLAN draped in the keychain sheets which, at the beginning of the performance are beautiful draperies or folds that gradually become equally beautiful shreds. After a long procession in the Palazzo Grassi, her assistants animated the drapery in front of the camera using wires to develop drapery studies that were broadcast live on 28 video monitors. At the end of the three hour performance, ORLAN curled up into a long red carpet until it formed a large ball around her and proceeded to fall into a boat on the Grand Canal.

ORLAN constantly and radically changes the existing data, disrupting the conventions, the ready-to-think. She opposes natural, social, and political determinism, all form of domination—male supremacy, religion, cultural segregation, racism, etc.

Always mixed with a sense of humor, sometimes parody or even the grotesque, her provocative work can shock because it upsets the pre-established codes.

ORLAN writes each letter in capital letters because she does not want to be returned to the ranks or put back in line.


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Ceysson & Bénétière
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