Beyond the Body: Orlan and the Material Morph: 

06/28/2000

Here I am in 2018, back in Paris, where I bumped into Orlan after a 20 year absence!! I first met Orlan in 1997, soon after writing my article "Beyond the Body: Orlan and the Material Morph" for Vivian Sobchack's book, Meta Morphing and the Culture of Quick Change (Univ. Minnesota Press, 2000). In this article I argue that Orlan's work-specifically her performance The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan, or Images-New Image is material counterpoint to the digital morph and critical counterpoint to the cosmetic morph. I argue

The most crucial aspect of Orlan's performance is a foregrounding of the "cruelties" and "revolts" otherwise elided by the smooth seduction and "aesthetic irreality" of the computer-generated morph.

 

This very distinctiveness and recalcitrance of the material body is brought to the fore in Orlan's performances. Rather than present her trans¬≠formation as a fluid, seamless, and scarless transition between two dis¬≠parate images (a transition popularized in the press through their reliance on sequential "before" and "after" shots), Orlan inserts the camera into the operating "theater" to document precisely those signs of suffering and conflict otherwise absented by the (cosmetic) morph's "special effect." 

Forced to witness Orlan's surgery while she is conscious, while she is reading from texts and directing the action, but otherwise appearing as what she calls a "cadaver under autopsy;'4 the audience is given access to something that is usually hidden and, indeed, doubly celebrated for its invisibility-that is, both for its invisibility of process and its invisibility of result.