For four decades the internationally renowned French artist ORLAN has interrogated every defining aspect of being human—gender, ethnicity, religion, beauty, physiognomy, and even physiology itself—through an endlessly mutating oeuvre that defies categorization. Performance, sculpture, photography, poetry, design—ORLAN not only creates within these media, she disappears into them, willfully dissolving and reconfiguring her identity through her work.
ORLAN is most famous for her series of cosmetic-surgery performances in the 1990s in which she reconfigured her face and body as a critique of the standards of beauty imposed on women. In 2008, in a seemingly radical departure, ORLAN chose to disappear from her work entirely, effacing her famously protean features from her creations. In fact, she had chosen an even more dramatic way to dismantle her identity and perform it anew. With her Harlequin Coat project ORLAN borrows the commedia dell’arte trickster hero, the harlequin, as her alter ego, using his patchwork motif as a metaphor for the fragmented, multicolored, multilayered performance of the human signature. It is her most collaborative work to date, involving, at different stages, artists from the worlds of fashion, design, film, and technology. In reaching back to this Italian Renaissance character ORLAN simultaneously reaches forward into the most pressing of contemporary concerns: How can we be sure of who and what we are?
Fabulous Harlequin showcases photographs of ORLAN’s projects along with critical essays on ORLAN’s work.