ORLAN Revisited: Disembodied Virtual Hybrid Beauty

In Peg Zeglin Brand Weiser (ed.), Beauty Unlimited. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. pp. 306-340 (2013)
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I argued in 2000 that the French artist ORLAN may have moved away from her Reincarnation performances toward her Self-Hybridizations because she thought that in the latter she would be more transparently obvious in meaning and less frequently misunderstood. I may have overstated the ability of audiences to comprehend, however. In this essay I argue that the virtual beauty that ORLAN unfolds in her ongoing series Self-Hybridizations is not a real or actual beauty but rather a fake beauty, causally disembodied, based on the effects she intends to create from an imaginative use of combined hybrid imagery. Subverting the familiar philosophical notions of aesthetic distance and aesthetic appreciation, hers is not a monstrous beauty (as some feminist art theorists contend) but rather a fake beauty that still has aesthetic features worth assessing. I suggest the possibility of generational differences in understandings of the term 'feminist', i.e., shifts in meaning from early feminist theory of the 1970s to ever-evolving, twenty-first century notions of the term, all of which add to the confusion. As I negotiate this terrain, I hope to steer both critics and viewers more directly to the words of the artist herself, "I have tried to make my Self-Hybridations as 'human' as possible, like mutant beings, but I still did not think that the confusion could be possible."
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