Remember the Future !
Orlan has been working on the status of women and of the body since 1964. She is opposed to the prestige of pain and to the formatting of beauty, sports or religion. Her work on African and pre-Colombian self-hybridization - which consists in applying the beauty standards of antique civilizations (squinting, distorted head) to her own image - is a continuation of her work on deconditioning, which she led from 1990 to 1993 with her plastic surgical operations.
Today, with her project which focuses on the reverse process of filmmaking, entitled Le Plan du Film, this timeless and nomad artist dives into cinema. As early as 1985, Orlan created her film posters with images directly taken from her work - performances, photographs, installations - and from her private life. In 1990, she added to it a two-meter long advertising poster praising the qualities of the film before it even existed. The purpose of the artist here is to launch the filmmaking process in the wrong way, starting from the end and back to the beginning : "Not only a reversed film, but in a certain way the other side of the cinema..." This quotation from Godard is the motive of her cinematographic projects. It illustrates precisely the goals the artist has laid down for herself. Surrounded by critics, musicians, writers, directors and producers, Orlan buckles down once more to a work of diverting. Following precise terms of reference, Le plan du film plays with (and/or against ?) the audience, offering them a backstage trip without ever drawing a clear line between fiction and reality.
Orlan is also working with Canadian film director David Cronenberg. After the latter discovered Orlan’s Carnal Art Manifesto in Linda Kauffman’s Bad Girls and Sick Boys, he was inspired to write the script for Painkillers. The story is about a future civilization in which pain no longer exists. He asked Orlan to play her own part in this film, and she offered to perform her ultimate plastic surgery performance. She would then be shot and photographed while reading - laughing and performing - with her body surgically exposedfrom top to bottom. When she was at the 55th Cannes film festival, Orlan presented the posters of her project Le Plan du Film as well as the trailer of Oscillation created by Frédéric Comtet.
Orlan, can you tell us more about your project Le Plan du Film ?
I organized a TV set at the Fondation Cartier, a genuinely false live show led by Alain Maneval and shot in front of an audience. This show was supposed to be a new broadcast, meant to link up cinema and plastic arts. We had invited Paul Ardenne - a famous art critic, Jean-Jacques Bernard - a film critic, and Jean-Christophe Bouvet, who acted in many of Paul Vecchiali’s films and who is remembered for is outstanding part in Pialat’s Under The Sun of Satan. Serge Grünberg - a great specialist of Cronenberg’s work and a journalist for Les Cahiers du Cinéma - attended the show, as well as Raymond Hains - one of our greatest artists still alive - Patrick Corillon and André S. Labarthe - greatly appreciated in cinema circles as a director and a theorist. We also interviewed Nathalie Richard and dazzlingly talented Jean-Claude Dreyfuss. Pretending to go out of a showing and thanks to the posters and to the soundtrack of that film which does not exist created by the band Tanger, they described their feelings about the film : "Listen, I’m just coming out of the premiere, and it’s an amazing film. I’m going to tell you the story..." Then they reviewed it, compared it to other films. Everyone believed it was a real broadcast dealing with a new film, while the real purpose of this broadcast was to make the film exist.
Will the film eventually be shot ?
That’s indeed the objective ; it’s a work in progress, an open work of art. There is already a catalogue, which includes an explanation of this work, as well as a CD of the soundtrack recorded by the band Tanger. I’d like to make a second catalogue, still in a DVD case, and add a CD with pictures and trailers. In this catalogue, you’d find various scenarios written after the posters, scripts, synopsises. The purpose after that is to start the film production in the wrong way. But there are some directors who feel like working only from what the posters inspire in them that’s the case for the film The kiss.
You said you envied David Cronenberg because he has chosen the right medium ?
Yes indeed, I did say that. That is because he can show gore images like the opening of a human body, which is much more difficult to do in the realm of plastic arts. I show images that most of the time turn us blind. These images are difficult to show, especially in my milieu where there is a phenomenon of rejection from the part of the images and the artist. Artists are mainly decorators for flats and museums. They always have to think about children and grandmas, and make nice things to decorate collectors’ walls. In a film, you might close your eyes for a moment, but you’re not going to throw away the whole film, the director, and everything that goes along. In the realm of plastic Arts, people will say : "That’s horrible, frightening, I don’t want to see that, and I don’t want to buy that..."
What was your encounter with David Cronenberg like ?
He is a very beautiful human being and we had a real and beautiful encounter. He also is very critical of our society. He was kind enough to say that he was inspired by Carnal Art, but I think all the ingredients that will enable him to do the film the way he’ll do it were already present in his work. He just realised that there were other people working in other artistic fields who shared his ideas. I did not expect our meeting to be so interesting and him to be so open-minded, not some kind of unreachable monster. I offered him to shoot my last operation for his next film Painkillers. However, there are a lot of problems, notably as far as the law is concerned. I think it would be much more subtle to simulate the operation and make everyone think it is real. But it also may be real...
David Cronenberg has been the victim of censorship on several occasions and he will probably be censored again. Are you on the razor’s edge with censorship ?
I’m doing what I think I have to do, and those on the other side also think they do what they have to.
Do you think the vision of the body you are offering will be accepted one day ?
I do not know. I do not think so. It’s impossible - except in the medical realm - to show such images. There are many people who want to see those images and who have to face censorship. Not an external censorship, but an internal one. The body suddenly says no, and then it’s the blackout.
Do you have a mission ?
I’ve always had specific views on our society and thought that my artistic work didn’t clear me of being an actor in this society. For instance - I’m not the only one - I’m one of the women who fought for the right to abort and to get access to contraception. I’ve always worked with surgery teams for palliative care to be given, for pain to be abolished thanks to pharmacopoeia. Our old remains of Judeo-Christian traditions make that suffering is still prestigious. I’ve always had a project for a new society, not a global one, but dealing with some specific areas. I’ve been to trying to improve things in a certain way, through criticism and distance.
But you are also part of the system. Are you trying to blow it up from the inside ?
Yes, let’s say that I am more and more integrated into the market, especially since the 1993 operations. You can interprete my whole work as a deformatting ; I wanted to decondition myself from where I came from, from what people had been trying to inculcate into me, from what I thought wasn’t working in this. I’ve always tried to carry on regardless of all that. All my work on pre-Colombian and African self-hybridizations reflects the idea that all civilizations are or were creating bodies. Not only bodies, but also the hardwares and softwares that are inside those bodies. We always take for granted that it’s our own self that expresses its views, but actually it always does according to the patterns that were imposed on it. Pre-Colombians used to make people squint by putting clay balls between babies’ eyes. They used to find that very sexy, both for men and women. It’s the same for distorted heads. For example, in the south of France, babies’ heads were hugged tightly with bandages in order to distort their skulls. At the museum of Rabastens you can see a Virgin Mary sculpture called the Virgin of Ladin. She and the baby she carries have totally distorted heads. Today, body transformation practices still exist, but they are considered in a different way. These are body-building and plastic surgery.
People call you an avant-gardist...
Sometimes it is said that avant-garde no longer exists. I think we can only be the columnists of our time. I found it very difficult to come to terms with that idea as a teacher in plastic arts at the university of Paris-Cergy. Some years ago, if somebody said about your work : "this has already been made before", it was an insult, the worst thing you could ever be told. Today, students and young artists don’t give a damn about that. They act like DJs, they re-use the past like they would browse a magazine. They are not exploiting the concept, they are using the concept’s image.
Isn’t the society trying to establish an ever-lasting present ?
Yes, maybe. This is unbelievable. In my whole work, I’ve always been persuaded that there should be no splitting between the ancient and the modern, that the ancient was the avant-garde and the contemporary of its own time.
This is one of your mottoes : "Remember the future". What does it exactly mean ?
You have to project yourself into the future. We have to keep our distances with the here and now. Our prejudices and our decisions are linked to the past. Most young people need to get younger. They are repeating what their parents thought when they were 30 or 40 ; they are already old, not only because they absorbed their parents’ experience, but also because of the way they’ve been educated. In the future, our way of thinking will be different. For instance the status of the human body will be modified with the emergence of human cloning and with the ability to breed without sexual intercourse. Another example is that more and more young women are keeping their ovules frozen, so that later they can have them re-implanted, when they consider that they are sufficiently experienced and educated to be able to offer their child as much knowledge as possible. Most of the time people of my generation used to get married early and had children when they were very young. In almost all cases, that amounted to stopping their development as human beings. Women remained ignorant and just took care of their children and met other women leading the same life. As a consequence, the knowledge they gave to their children was very poor.
These changes are partly due to the evolution of technologies. Does it make you feel like undertaking a new kind of work ?
For the time being, I am not interested in showing that a machine works. I think these technologies are now mostly used that way and they are seldom diverted from their original function, or used to produce an act of poetry and demonstration.
|Orlan, Le plan du film - séquence 1, CD + livret, al dante|