e-art

Lynn Hershman, Une chambre à soi
Room of One’s Own
(1990-1993)
Lynn Hershman, Room of One’s Own (1990-1993)
View of the interior of the “peep show”
Photo courtesy of the artist

Lynn Hershman, DiNA
DiNA (2004-)
Lynn Hershman, DiNA (2004-)
Photo courtesy of the artist

Lynn Hershman, La vie au carré
Life Squared (2007)
Lynn Hershman, Life Squared (2007)
Photo of Roberta Breitmore in Life Squared
Courtesy of the artist

Lynn Hershman, La vie au carré
Life Squared (2007) (video)

Lynn Hershman, The Electronic Diaries
The Electronic Diaries (1986-1989)
Lynn Hershman, The Electronic Diaries (1986-1989)
Screen capture from the video
Courtesy of the artist

Lynn Hershman, The Electronic Diary
Longshot (1989)
Lynn Hershman, Longshot (1989)
Screen capture from the video
Courtesy of the artist

Lynn Hershman, The Electronic Diary
Seeing is Believing (1991)
Lynn Hershman, Seeing is Believing (1991)
Screen capture from the video
Courtesy of the artist

Lynn Hershman, The Electronic Diary
Shooting Script: A Transatlantic Love Story (1992)
Lynn Hershman, Shooting Script: A Transatlantic Love Story (1992)
Screen capture from the video
Courtesy of the artist
Lynn Hershman Leeson
Born in Cleveland (OH) in 1941
Lives and work in San Francisco (CA)

The works of Lynn Hershman Leeson take us through the looking glass to a world where appearances deceive, duplicity reigns, and identity play thrives among a host of media mirages. Cutting across all of her work is a fascination for the fluctuating identities we don and how the media environment offers us identity replacements, masks and outlets.

Any account of Hershman’s career must begin by exposing a hoax: a segment of her master’s thesis consisted of writing art critiques under three pseudonyms: Juris Prudence, Herbert Goode and Gay Abandon. Today, Hershman is considered as one of the most important artists on the U.S. West coast. The artistic works of this veritable jack-of-all-trades are rooted in the conceptual art and performance of the 1960s and 1970s. During the 1980s and 1990s, video became a vital component of her work, with more than 20 videos and films being produced, including Lorna (1982), one of the first interactive videos featuring a non-linear narrative. “Hershman’s art is among the most enigmatic, psychologically troubling, and philosophically ambivalent art produced by her generation,” states Howard N. Fox, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (1) Hershman examines the volatility of images and the vicariousness of identities in our highly mediatised world of simulacra and simulation. (2)

The confines of this publication do not allow us to fully explore Hershman’s expansive and rich career, but we are able to present in our exhibition three of her works as well as a number of her films and videos like The Electronic Diaries (1986-1989), a video work that traces her search to define her personae and herself as an artist or Shooting Script: A Transatlantic Love Story (1992). (3) In these videographic works of the 1980s and 1990s, Hershman investigates the notions of intimacy, advertising, authenticity and deceit. In Room of One’s Own (1990-1993), she focuses on how women are framed through the viewer’s gaze in media, from advertising to pornography. The work draws from a variety of sources: its title comes from the famous novel by Virginia Woolf, and its form is inspired by Edison’s kinetoscope, better known as the peep show. It was this device that introduced the viewing of animated erotic and pornographic images, with the female body thus being defined by masculine voyeurism and desire. Hershman’s work is an examination of the viewer, whose gaze characterises the narrative and who is now the person “captured” in his or her role as voyeur.

It is, however, worthwhile to go into some detail about one of her earliest installations outside of a gallery setting, The Dante Hotel, which she presented in situ in 1973-1974 at the San Francisco hotel of the same name, as well as her work Roberta Breitmore, a persona adopted by the artist from 1971 to 1978 and who had a role in numerous performances. These works are revived in Life Squared (2007), the world premier of which is being held here in Montreal.

For nine months between 1973 and 1974, Hershman occupied a room at the Dante Hotel, which was open 24 hours a day. She furnished the room 47 with everyday objects – reading glasses, cosmetics, clothing – unlikely traces of lives invented, in order to recreate the presumed lives of past occupants of the room. The radio broadcasted local news juxtaposed with audio-taped breathing from a speaker placed under the bed; two life-sized wax-cast mannequins “slept” on the bed itself. Above them was wallpaper made up of photographs of the room itself. This work was intended to be permanent, but one day a man by the name of Owen Moore came to see the room at 3:00 a.m. and, taking the bodies in the bed for corpses, called the police. The police confiscated all of the objects, which to this day remain unclaimed. (4)

Howard N. Fox viewed Roberta Breitmore as a master work marking Hershman’s initial postmodern artistic strategies. (5) Roberta was a private performance to simulate a fictitious person who existed in real life. (6) The artist created a persona “composited from accumulated stereotyped psychological data.” (7) Today, the “historical” traces of her “life” remain (credit cards, social security number, etc.), along with sketches, photos, surveillance reports, a film, comic strips, letters, medical records and other artefacts. This archive is now housed at the Special Collections Library of Stanford University in California.

The new work, Life Squared, created over the past few years with help from researchers in the Stanford Humanities Lab and presented here for the first time in public, revives these two early works, one whose traces were confiscated and the other whose archives, while substantial, can only recount this “life” in fragments. Life Squared is intended to make these archives accessible in the online virtual world Second Life. (8) We are greeted to the Dante Hotel by Roberta Breitmore. What happens when an avatar embodies the virtual character of a simulated being? Who is speaking? We find ourselves somewhere between fiction and history, but it is the history of a simulated life, and we are caught in the confusion between the fictional and the historical. And what, exactly, is history in this world of pretences and simulations? What is art in this virtual world not yet second nature to us that is Second Life?

J.G. © FDL 2007


(1) Howard N. Fox, “Breaking the Code” in The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson: Secret Agents, Private I, edited by Meredith Tromble (Berkeley: University of California Press; Seattle: Henry Art Gallery 2005): p. 1.
(2) It is interesting to note that in 1995, Lynn Hershman Leeson was awarded the Siemens-Medienkunstpreis by the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, a prize that was also awarded that same year to Jean Baudrillard, who published Simulacra and Simulation in 1981.
(3) Please see film and video program for complete schedule.
(4) See Lynn Hershman Leeson, “Private I: An Investigator’s Timeline” in The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson: Secret Agents, Private I, edited by Meredith Tromble (Berkeley: University of California Press; Seattle: Henry Art Gallery, 2005): pp. 20-23.
(5) Howard N. Fox, “Breaking the Code,” op. cit., p. 2.
(6) See Lynn Hershman Leeson, “Private I: An Investigator’s Timeline,” op. cit., p. 25.
(7) Ibid., p 25.
(8) Second Life: http://www.secondlife.com/
Works on display

Room of One’s Own (1990-1993)

In collaboration with Sara Roberts
Programmer: Palle Henckle
Computer-controlled interactive apparatus, including laser disk and laser disk player, mirror, camera, projector, speakers, and doll-house furniture, mounted in a hardboard, plexiglas, and metal viewing case, with pressure-sensitive floor-mat
Collection of the National Gallery of Canada

DiNA (2004-)

Video projector and computer, sensors, Pulse 3D veepers software, Alicebot and natural voices, Internet line
Programmer: Colin Klingman
Project Director: Kyle Stephan
Web design: Stephanie Chu
Fabrication: Matt Heckert
Collection of the artist
Edition of 3

Life Squared (2007)

Two plasma screens, video camera, computers, artefacts from the Dante Hotel, photographs 10.1 cm x 12.7 cm, Internet line
Project manager and developer: Henrik Bennetsen
Developers: Jeff Aldrich, Henry Segerman
Principal investigators: Henry Lowood, Michael Shanks
Collection of the artist

The Electronic Diaries (1986-1989)

66 min., video, colour

Longshot (1989)

58 min., video, colour

Seeing is Believing (1991)

58 min., video, colour

Shooting Script: A Transatlantic
Love Story
(1992)

52 min., video, colour

Biography

Lynn Hershman Leeson holds Bachelor’s degree in Education, Museum Administration, and Fine Arts from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland (OH) (1963) and a Master of Fine Arts from San Francisco State University (CA) (1972). She has been a Professor Emeritus of Digital Art in the Techno Cultural Studies Program at the University of California, Davis, and she is an A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University. Her work has been presented in numerous exhibitions around the world. Among her solo exhibitions is a major retrospective of her work, presented in 2006 at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle (WA). She has won a number of prestigious awards, including the 1995 Siemens-Medienkunstpreis from the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany; the Flintridge Foundation Award for her entire body of work in the visual arts (1998); the Golden Nica award in interactive arts from Ars Electronica (1999); and the Innovation that Matters Award from the Digital Media and Arts Association (2005).

Links:
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Daniel Langlois Foundation