—from Eugenie Lemoine Luccioni’s “The Dress” as read before each of French artist Orlan’s seminal plastic surgery art performances
When Andy Warhol declared “I love plastic. I want to be plastic.” almost fifty years ago, he was honoring the true idol of his era. Warhol wasn’t being cheeky or ironic – he was getting spiritual. A substance of powerful polymorphic properties, at the time plastic was the perfect embodiment of malleability and transformability . A sleek and shiny entity that seemed indestructible, it was a paragon of immortality. Warhol rightfully recognized that plastic was a quintessential representation of mid-twentieth century ideals.
We now live in the age of silicone. These semi-inorganic polymeric compounds are even more mutable and closer to being eternal than plastic. Silicone has affected our daily lives in countless ways (hello lube) but perhaps its most profound impact has only begun to be felt. With this substance, we have been given the unparalelled ability to manifest our innermost desires on our external flesh. We can refashion the bodies that nature imposed on us to more closely fit our own terms. We can incarnate our own visions of perfection; become the literal personifications of our most profound fantasies; transform ourselves into avatars of our deepest interiors.
Much of the discourse around plastic surgery is based on a series of assumptions. On the one hand, defenders tell us that there is a schism in the way that we experience our identities – how we look on the outside is at odds with who we believe we authentically are inside – and these surgical interventions are justified because they satisfy some apparent ly profound need for coherence in our identities. On the other hand, detractors argue that we live in a world where one’s self-image is distorted through endless media refractions and these surgeries are turning us into reproductions of mediated versions of reality that have nothing to do with the real.
Coherence. Real. Words that come out of a model of identity that is constant and stable.
Like Warhol, Nina Arsenault (herself, in some ways, a Warholian creation) understands silicone. She has used this substance to raise the pursuit of the real fake to metaphysical levels. In doing so, she destabilizes the coherence and authenticity of identity. Like silicone itself, Nina creates a new paradigm of mutable identity: one that will not stick, that is likely to change, inconstant, variable. And magnificent. Tonight, she is a silicone goddess and you are in her white temple. In her presence, you can no longer tell where the artificial ends and the real begins; what is sacred and what is profane; what is constant and what is changing. And you embark on a journey where the imaginary merges with the physical to create the idealized landscape that is art.
Enjoy the show!
Artistic Director, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
(published with the permission of the author)