[Home]CarnalArt

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First termed L'Art charnel by the French artist Orlan, the term carnal art is a terrible translation to describe what might be considered a terrible art. The term falsely brings to mind connotations of sex, although the assault on sexual norms and mores certainly plays a critical part in the comprehension of this art. Carnal art is very simply the modification of the flesh of the body for artistic purposes. And while the term body art may be more appropriate, that has already been applied to body painting and piercing. Even body modification doesn't quite make the grade when it comes to carnal art.

The basic concept of carnal art is the classical idea of self-portrait. However, while traditional art forms attempt to represent the self through image, carnal art transforms the fundamental representation of a person (his or her body) to fit what the person, the artist, desires. While carnal art disfigures the human body through plastic surgery, it remains distinct from body art by not aspiring to induce pain or attain redemption or otherwise fall into the Christian symbology of negativity. In contrast, at least in the mind of its creator Orlan, carnal art is a positivist atheistic art form, free from the misconceptions of religion.

More to the point, this art form fully accepts (and greatly appreciates) anaesthetics, unlike the earlier body mulitation art forms from the 60s. In fact, it would not have come about without the recent advances in local anaesthesia, which brings us to the first point of interest for MeatballWiki.

Until recently, surgery had been a very risky business as it demanded the use of general anaesthetics. Consequently, frivilous surgery was not very common, and it certainly was not something to experiment with or play around with. However, there have been great advances in local anaesthesia which have led to two fundamental changes in surgerical practices: first, a lot of surgery has become day surgery, allowing people to pop in and pop out without much discomfort nor much risk; second, patients can remain conscious during the surgery, fully aware and fully cogniscent for the whole process. These two aspects combined have opened the door for artists such as Orlan, Elizabeth Christiansen, and Stelarc (see below) to "play" with plastic surgery for artistic purposes. First, the risk to them has become so low that they could conceive of doing this without fear to their persons. Second, since they can communicate during the surgery, they can turn the surgery into a performance. This once again demonstrates the fundamental rule that whenever a new communication channel opens up, it will be used for art.

© stelarc. stelarc plans to add a third prosthetic ear.

However, this art form raises a number of complex ethical questions, the second point of interest for MeatballWiki. The artists must employ surgeons in their art, making the surgeons question their oaths and their consciences. After all, aren't doctors supposed to work towards the normalization of beauty and health? Disfiguring the body willfully is an anathema to most doctors, moreso than the average citizen. And while most of us would have no problems stopping a person from willfully hurting themselves (and such is the law in most of our jurisdictions), the end result of this process is not intended to be painful to the patient. So, how much control does a person have over their own appearance? If clothes are a medium, might not their body be one as well? That is the PostHuman argument at least.

To white, although to a much lesser degree than Orlan or stelarc, Björk plays with body modification in her video Pagan Poetry, where she pierces her body multiple times in the video to reflect carnally the inner emotional state of the song's voice. Avaiable from her [video gallery].

Except it isn't very new. It doesn't take much thinking to recognize that humans have been modifying their bodies in extreme ways for aesthetic reasons for millenia. Just consider the Padaung tribe in Mongolia and the African Marsh tribe, famous for using rings to stretch their necks to extreme proportions.

References

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