Lynn Hershman Leeson on Experiment and Exploration

Lynn Hershman Leeson on Experiment and Exploration

Laura Belik on the Arts + Design Wednesdays @ BAMPFA | Experiment and Exploration talk with Lynn Hershman Leeson on March 21, 2018.

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work as a new media experimental artist was always ahead of its time. “My work is waiting for your generation to be born, because it is your generation that actually understands it”, Hershman Leeson says when reflecting on the repercussion her pieces had. The artist’s provocative works discussing the relationships between humans and technology pioneered the fields of net-based media art as well as video, film, sculpture, performance, amongst others.

LynnHLIn the early 1970’s media was not yet considered so broadly as art, or as something that could belong to a museum. Therefore, the artist’s work was also to create alternative spaces for their pieces. Hershman Leeson shared how some of her initial work, such as “Breathing Machine, 1967” would combine objects and sound, creating a hybrid between what she called sound sculpture and a performative piece. Those sculptures started to gain new versions, as the artist expanded her discussions to the boundaries between fiction and truth. One example is “Roberta Breitmore”, a fictional character created by Hershman Leeson, that would perform real-life activities, including having fake documents. “She had better credit than I did, considering she had no credit”, the artist joked questioning the bureaucratic system we live in and explaining how that fictional figure was purely a reflection on the elements of the culture she belonged to.

“Tillie and CyberRoberta, 1995-98” also continued that same critical tone, but now also directly interacted with the viewers. This installation piece with “surveillance dolls” that had their eyes replaced by cameras (what we know as the nanny cams today) would both understand the doll and the viewer as cyborgs, as the viewer used the doll’s eyes in order to extend their own remote vision. “Synthia Stock Ticker, 2000” brought the satire to a broader level, as the woman/character would express changes in her behavior accordingly to stock market changes.

It was also around that time that Hershman Leeson started to work with films as well, mostly on Sci-Fi productions. One of her first projects was “Conceiving Ada” (1997), a Sci-Fi adventure about Lady Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord Byron), and the importance of her work building codes for computer language that often did not get recognized. Hershman Leeson also mentioned “Teknolust” (2003), and its repercussion beyond cinema expanding to art/performance pieces on artificial intelligence. Amongst the artists’ latest works “Infinity Engine Genetic Lab, 2014” brings her back to biological computing, building an installation composed of eight rooms that work as functional replicas of a genetics lab. Hershman Leeson might have been waiting for our generation to be born to understand her work as art, but the value of what she brings to the audience goes beyond, as inspiration.

Lauren Belik (PhD Student, Architecture) reviewed the March 21, 2018 talk with Lynn Hershman Leeson, part of the Spring 2018 Arts + Design Wednesdays @ BAMPFA series. To learn more about the series, see below:

Arts + Design Wednesdays @ BAMPFA: Experiment and Exploration. This series explores the exciting world of the Bay Area’s alternative, underground, and experimental media arts communities and the ways they have transformed contemporary art and media culture. Led by UC Berkeley Associate Professor of Film and Media Jeffrey Skoller, the series engages prominent media artists, curators, and critics to explore the idea of experimentalism in art as a risk-taking approach to creative expression and as a philosophical position that emphasizes art as process and invention over product and professional mastery.

Arts + Design Wednesdays @ BAMPFA is organized and sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Arts + Design Initiative in partnership with Big Ideas courses. In-kind support is provided by BAMPFA. Learn more here.