Donger, Simon (2009) ORLAN-Vertigo/Self-Touching-You. In: Interfaces of Performance. Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities . Ashgate, Farnham, pp. 57-69. ISBN 9780754675761


Over 10 years ago, I first encountered the work of ORLAN in the confined room of a French gallery. The piece was a wall-sized recorded video projection of ORLAN's face surgically altered. It was presented with very little distance allowed between the image and the viewer. The close-ups of ORLAN's face, magnified by the environmental conditions of the video's presentation seemed to locate the viewer within the surgeon's viewpoint.

I found my body and my senses disturbed: sight blurring, going greyish, ears buzzing, I passed out and woke up in the garden of the gallery. As I headed back into the gallery to explore the other rooms and artworks, the temptation to return to ORLAN's piece raised some anxiety. I was confused. Was my anguish originating from empathy with the viewed body under literal deconstruction, with the augmented off-stage presence of the surgeon, with with the ambiguous intersection? the camera's presence was posited as another surgical tool, thereby propelling a blur between the corporeality of ORLAN, of her surgeon, and of her audience. The ambiguous contact at work in the video invested the actual room of the gallery and the viewers. And although I then knew what to expect in form and content, I could not be sure that this blur would not trigger another physiological attack of vertigo. I headed back into the room for a second time.

My interview with ORLAN attempts to explore the textures and implications of what I describe as an effacement of carnal and technical delineations of experience and the critical collapse of internal and external modalities of (re)presentation of the body. This 'dis/connection advanced in the logic of the prosthesis' can be seen as 'the trauma of lost unity': 'leaving the body behind ... anti-human ... apocalyptic'. Yet in ORLAN's work, it is celebrated as what Donna Haraway has called 'fruitful couplings', or '"pleasurably tight couplings" ... erotically charged violations with potent new fusions [where] the cyborg becomes the stage on which are performed contestations about the body boundaries that have often marked class, ethnic and cultural differences'. Indeed, ORLAN herself has said that her work is concerned with 'pleasure and sensuality'. The following discussion strives to clarify the discursive layers at stake behind this sensuous and heuristic logic of dis/connection in ORLAN's work.


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