ORLAN, one of France’s star artists, is the protagonist of an exhibition at the Center of Interest in Cluj-Napoca (Centrul de Interes).  The artist’s first personal show in Romania is accessible to the public free of charge from October 5th to November 17th, from 16:00 to 19:00.

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‘Allow me to introduce myself. My name is ORLAN, it’s always capitalized, because I don’t want to be like everyone else, and this status is not easy to obtain. ORLAN is a pseudonym that defines me, and I am my own invention.’ These are the words ORLAN has used to introduce herself on many occasions, including the round table discussion held on the occasion of the exhibition’s opening on October 6th in the presence of some of Cluj’s most prominent cultural leaders.

Warmly inviting the audience to come to sit closer to the conference table, the now 74-year-old artist makes her presence truly palpable, doubled by the complexity with which she identifies as a saint, under the dichotomic syntagma I are, the English equivalent of Je somme.

Characterized by a nonconformist spirit, the artist became known in the ’90s for the idea of using cosmetic surgery as an artistic environment, dramatically changing her physiognomy and using implants in her forehead area that she still has today for identity customization. She stayed awake during the procedures, reading philosophical texts until she could no longer speak and pondering how far one could push the boundaries of body image.

ORLAN, «The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan», 1990 – 1993. Before the operations | © ORLAN / Source

For ORLAN, carnal art as a form of self-portrait has always been, according to critics, a form of abolishing death, an attempt to break down barriers between sexes, genders, and generations, in a way comparable to the standards of beauty of African women who widen their lips, which can easily illustrate the difference between the canons and cultural values ​​of each people. Later on, her work was centered on digital photography and infographic retouching, with a goal to create a comprehensive overview of new, revised, and corrected beauty standards that would go beyond the current norms, drawing a parallel on how she ‘became interested in the baroque, because it represented the degradation of classicism’.

During the conference ORLAN voiced her bewilderment at people who refuse vaccination against Covid-19, humouredly declaring that she loves injections – “I’m a bit radical” – and warning the public to be cautious of fake news and misinformation.

The concept of film as a possibility

‘LES FILMS DE SAINTE-ORLAN’ is an exhibition that highlights plausible but inexistent narratives, and auto-hagiographic fictions tailored in a cinematic key, which the curator, Horea Avram, characterized as ‘an entrance into a pseudo-cinema, caught in the ambiguous game of presence and absence’.

According to the artist, ‘at a festival in Spain, I also exhibited posters for non-existent films, inviting the press and even a film critic to talk about the concept, which sparked outrage among the audience wanting to see the film. They couldn’t figure out how to talk about a movie that didn’t exist.’

Among the exhibits, there are posters of films with real but absent famous characters, films that do not actually exist, soundtracks of films that have never been made, and a series of “hybrid” portraits of the artist, some of which can be experienced through Augmented Reality, since ‘in art, you have to own a certain style to be accepted by the public and even by some curators, and this is exactly what I try to avoid’, declares the artist.

ORLAN, Le Baiser de l’artiste, 1977 / Source

While asked about the balance between reality and fiction when designing the artworks, ORLAN stated that: ‘The aim behind these movie posters was to use art to communicate my journey. Many images were recovered and recycled for these posters, which I commissioned to an agency that specializes in advertising. They are my autobiography – everything about my life, everything about my work, while the names on the posters are those of close friends of mine, some of whom are no longer alive. When you see me dressed like this, in black and white, you could assume that I am a believer. I don’t want to believe; I want to know.’

Real productions envisioned

ORLAN has also attempted to collaborate with the well-known film director, Woody Allen, which was initially impossible due to some misunderstandings between the French and American production studios, but determined her not to abandon the project in the near future.

In the meantime, she is casting an open call to the public for film scripts, to all those eager to participate with creative material of any sort, stemming from the exhibited posters. As a result, the selected films become reality in the opposite way of how we are accustomed, from poster to concept.

Representations of the self

Arousing both interest and controversy, one thing is certain about ORLAN’s art – it sparks a debate on the significance of artistic innovation in influencing contemporary society while making us wonder if our self-representations are not just carefully invented illusions constructed for marketing purposes in a world in which the mass media has a significant influence on the denotation of new artistic currents, or as she put it best, ‘pain is alarming, but suffering is only optional’.

Featured photo: Manteau de l’Arlequin, ORLAN, 2008 / Source

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