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Operations of Redress: Orlan, the Body and Its Limits

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This article begins with an overview of the surgical project of performance art engaged upon by Orlan between 1990 and 1993, The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan, in which each feature of her face was sculpturally resdesigned to match one from a different female icon in the history of Western art. It then considers the relationship Orlan’s project entertains with contemporary technology, and assesses how meaningful her claims about the obsolescence of the human body in an electronic age may be said to be. The third section of the article turns to Orlan’s series of performances with dress and costume, and to the new role given in these and other works to the skin, as bodily ‘envelope’ and a significant element in psychoanalytic accounts of ego formation and psychological relationships to space. This focuses particularly on the mesurages or measurings in which Orlan used her female body as an alternative to a supposedly neutral (=male) measure of public space. Drawing on different philosophical accounts of the concept of the imaginary, the article suggests that Luce Irigaray’s writings on the currently fragmented and unsymbolised female imaginary best explain what is at stake in Orlan’s public use of her body as a measure.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 1, 1998

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