French Artist ORLAN on the Paradoxical Power of HeLa Cells

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ORLAN is wearing her own clothes and glasses

The bio-artist describes about the strange beauty of diseased cells in the new issue of AnOther Magazine

“HeLa cells are cancerous cells that divide infinitely and can be qualified as eternal. They were first discovered in the tumour biopsy of Henrietta Lacks, a patient suffering from cervical cancer who then died from the disease in 1951. Ever since, these cells have continued to increase, and are cultivated and bought by laboratories all around the world. They continue to live because and thanks to a disease – it’s an interesting paradox. They are like a body that does not stop growing. My perceptions changed dramatically when I heard about the HeLa cells – my perceptions about the status of the living and the dead body, of body material, of what the body is formed, of its function in society. Thanks to these cells, we are able to do experiments for therapies that will save people’s lives and improve their physical condition. In each of these cells, there is hope.”

It is fair to say that ORLAN (her soubriquet, always capitalised) has lived her life in caps, too. Born Mireille Suzanne Francette Porte in 1947 in Saint-Étienne, France, she has spent her long career manipulating the body she inherited at birth in the service of her art. Infamously altering her face in nine rounds of plastic surgery in the 1990s – even adding a pair of horn-like implants to her brow – ORLAN’s long-held aim is to dismantle ingrained notions of beauty. In recent years, the fearlessly inventive artist has focused on the frontiers of bio-art. The results include an organic coat composed of human skin samples and micro-self-portraits using cells and bacteria harvested from her own body.

Hair: Taan at l'Atelier (68). Make-up: Mélanie Sergeff at l'Atelier (68). Photographic assistant: Corentin Thevenet. Styling assistants: Rebecca Perlmutar, Diego Diez and Sunnie Fraser

The Autumn/Winter 2017 issue of AnOther Magazine is on sale now.