Lady Gaga isn't exactly a stranger to accusations that her work is derivative. But now, a French artist is reportedly suing the singer for plagiarism. Meet Orlan, who's been active in the French art scene for decades:
There are some obvious similarities between the two: Orlan, like Gaga, wears horns. Gaga, like Orlan, takes a stage name. Orlan, like Gaga, employs a ton of visual and conceptual references to Catholic imagery, the human body, and celebrity. There's even an entire tumblr dedicated to the similarities between the two (supplemented by comparisons to other visual artists): Gagaorlan. And there are some more broad conceptual resonances, too: here's Orlan's work explained in a 1993 Art in America feature:
"Orlan has trafficked in notions of an ambiguous and constantly shifting identity. Her actions call into question whether our self- representations conform to an inner reality or whether they are actually carefully contrived falsehoods fabricated for marketing purposes--in the media or in society at large...rlan leaves her background deliberately fuzzy, the better to maintain the anonymity required to project an enigmatic "star quality."
Orlan's performance went a bit further that Gaga's — those bumps on her face are real implants, and Orlan spent a good portion of the early 1990's undergoing a series of plastic surgery "interventions" as performance art. It seems plausible, then, that Orlan's work has influenced, and is referenced, by Lady Gaga. But that's not what, specifically, her greivence addresses. For the legal case, Orlan is reportedly focusing on one image from Gaga's "Born This Way" video to make the case that the singer's album of the same title relies on Orlan's body of work for its visual elements. As reported by Art Info, the lawsuit mentions an image of Gaga's severed head from the video's introduction, because it bears a resemblence to a 90's Orlan sculpture, “Femme Avec Tête” (“Woman With Head”).
Source: Lady Gaga, "Born This Way"
The lawsuit also cites another work of Orlan's "Bumpload." We're no experts on French plagiarism law, and most of the reports on the reported suit are, in French (the story was broken by a French art mag called "le Quotidien de l'Art" and picked up by the AFP), so we'll stay away from conclusive opinions here on whether Orlan has a good case against Gaga. But in the most general sense, there's a difference here between creating an homage to an iconic work of art (which Gaga herself did for Duchamp by inscribing a message on a urinal, a la the artist's immensely influential Fountain), and ripping off someone's work. Orlan seems to think that Gaga's apparent, repeated references to her work are the latter, and is apparently asking for 7.5 percent of the profits from the "Born This Way" album and video in compensation.
For her part, Gaga actually talked about Orlan back in 2011, as part of an interview with NME magazine (and quoted over at GagaOrlan). Essentially, she said she hadn't heard of her:
NME wonders - thinking of the other homages she says she signposts so clearly, like the Ziggy-esque flash across her face when she first appeared in 2008 - if Gaga has heard of Orlan, the French artist whose permanent, surgically implanted facial modifications are very similar to Gaga's 'Born This Way' look. "Who's Orlan?" Gaga asks, grabbing her MacBook. "Do people think that's where I got it from?"
After the debacle earlier, NME decides to let Google do the talking. Gaga hits the search button. "Oh my gosh. (Gasps) What is that? It's quite beautiful. That's weird! (Thinks) It's very fabulous. Well, I'm going to be inspired by her now, thank you!"
Critics seem to have a pretty good grasp on what does — and doesn't — constitute written plagiarism, but the line is a bit more blurry when the work in question is visual or conceptual. This has come up before, recently and famously with Beyoncé's "Countdown" a video that mixes clear and intentional homage with dance moves taken straight from the work of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker:
The choreographer publicly aired her accusations that Beyoncé stole her work, but the singer's reputation hasn't exactly suffered under their weight. Gaga, earlier this year, was sued for plagiarism over the song Judas, so this isn't the first time that another artist has said that Gaga took too liberally from the work of another. The lawsuit also targets Universal Music France and demands that the label halt sales of the album and marketing of the 2-year-old video.