Fandor Blog, Staff Picks: Anne Hockens
Teknolust (2002) directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson
“Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is on my personal top ten list of novels and this is my favorite cinematic riff on it. This funny, sexy and thought provoking independent comedy insightfully answers the question: ‘what if Doctor Frankenstein were a woman?’ Instead of the creator who abandons his creation to a pitiless world, director/writer Lynn Hershman Leeson presents one who tries to protect her creations from it. Tilda Swinton plays the socially awkward scientist Rosetta Stone and her three creations who are eager to experience the world against Rosetta’s wishes.”
Coming Soon: Dissident Futures at the YBCA
Oct 18, 2013 – Feb 2, 2014
An investigation into possible alternative futures, either through active engagement with current political, economic, and technological structures, Dissident Futures furthers our understanding of how artists are addressing potentiality and the unknown, from the most desired future to the most feared.
Full YBCA calendar for 2013-2014 season!
The Week Ahead: Mar. 31 — April 6
What does photography even mean anymore as the 21st century deepens and we find ourselves overwhelmed by a flood of images, both still and video? Maybe the Museum of Modern Art show “XL: 19 New Acquisitions in Photography,” which opens on May 10, can give us a clue or two. It’s meant to assess photography’s role in contemporary art — and maybe in our lives. The 19 artists include Yto Barrada, Robert Frank, Birgit Jürgenssen, Stephen Shore, Taryn Simon and Lynn Hershman Leeson, whose chromogenic color print “Roberta’s Construction Chart #2” (1976) is above. (moma.org)
State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970
The Bronx Museum of the Arts
June 20 – September 8, 2013
State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970 is a thorough investigation of seminal conceptual and related avant-garde activities in the late 1960s and early 70s and the critical interchange between artists living in the Golden State. The exhibition demonstrates the immense changes in artistic practice that coincided with the burgeoning number of art schools and university art departments, nonprofit art spaces, alternative galleries, and artist-run spaces and publications which not only provided exhibition opportunities but, in the relative absence of commercial support, also created a community that fostered an exchange of radical forms and ideas. Organized around central themes, the exhibition features approximately 150 works by 60 artists, ranging from those who became major international figures to lesser-known artists who nonetheless made important contributions. The exhibition consists of video, film, photography, installation, artist’s books, drawing, and paintings. Additionally, there is extensive performance documentation and ephemera.
XL: 19 New Acquisitions in Photography
NY MoMA, The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, third floor
May 10, 2013–January 6, 2014
This exhibition addresses photography’s influential role in contemporary art through a selection of recent major acquisitions, primarily multipart and serial works. Presented at MoMA for the first time, these works by 19 artists are grounded in diverse photographic traditions, suggesting the creative fertility of the medium from 1960 to today. They range from postwar experiments with darkroom processes (such as photograms and photomontages), to 1970s feminist performances conceived for the camera, to political and documentary engagements with labor history and globalization in the 1980s and 1990s, to forms of archival and historical reconstitution made since 2000. The international, cross-generational group of artists includes Yto Barrada, Phil Collins,* Liz Deschenes, Stan Douglas,* VALIE EXPORT, Robert Frank, Paul Graham, Leslie Hewitt,* Birgit Jürgenssen, Jürgen Klauke, Běla Kolářová, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Dóra Maurer, Oscar Muñoz, Mariah Robertson, Allan Sekula, Stephen Shore, Taryn Simon,* and Hank Willis Thomas.*
*Works by these artists will be on view beginning August 23, 2013.
Galleries 1–4 open May 10; gallery 5 opens August 23
Profile in El Pais
Diez años hablando con un robot
Por: Roberta Bosco y Stefano Caldana
20 de mayo de 2013
“Pregúntame lo que quieras, evoluciona conmigo, puedo enseñarte a soñar”. Las sugerentes invitaciones son algunas de las propuestas que Agent Ruby lleva formulando a su público incesantemente, durante las 24 horas del día, desde hace diez años. Pese a su rostro vagamente andrógino, Agent Ruby es una mujer, disponible y atenta, dispuesta a compartir conocimientos y secretos en su mundo de sueños electrónicos. ¡Que no hunda el pánico! Ruby no es una trabajadora del sexo, aunque no le desagradan las charlas salidas de tono, y tampoco es real, sino que se trata de un robot o más precisamente de un chatterbot, creado por la artista multidisciplinar estadounidense Lynn Hershman Leeson.
Concebida hace diez años con la complicidad de Rudolf Frieling, curador de media arts del SFMOMA de San Francisco, Agent Ruby es una pieza fundamental de la historia del arte en Internet. Su esencia reside en un programa de inteligencia artificial, que desde 2002 evoluciona, aumentando su capacidad de contestar y establecer un diálogo con los visitantes. Para celebrar su décimo aniversario, Agent Ruby se vuelve a presentar en el SFMOMA, el museo que la vio nacer, en el marco de The Agent Ruby Files, una exposición compuesta por la instalación interactiva y diez libros de cien páginas cada uno, que reúnen diez años de charlas con el público en Internet. Como Lynn Hershman ha asegurado al Silicio, “Ruby ha madurado y los libros lo demuestran”. Los temas tratados son tan distintos como los perfiles de las personas involucradas y abarcan desde inteligencia artificial y política hasta sexo, feminismo y economía. Aunque se incluyen extractos de charlas con personajes destacados como el mismo Rudolf Frieling que diserta sobre filosofía, en su mayoría los textos han sido seleccionados a partir de las contribuciones recogidas a través de la página web del proyecto.
Interactuar con Agent Ruby no entraña ninguna dificultad. Desde la primera charla Ruby aprende a reconocer el visitante y para romper el hielo tan sólo hay que empezar a teclear frases concisas y claras, prefiriendo preguntas y siguiendo el hilo del discurso, cuidando mantener una conversación con un sentido lógico y formal desde el punto de vista gramatical. Para charlar con ella es posible también descargar la aplicación para Palm con sistema iOS. De una forma u otra Agent Ruby no dejará indiferente a nadie, tan sólo hay que tener en cuenta de que habla en inglés, a pesar de que presume conocer “un poquito” de castellano…
No hay que olvidar el año en que fue creada, anticipando de manera creativa la simulación del pensamiento humano. Sin duda hay que considerarla un proyecto pionero desde el punto de vista del análisis de las posibilidades interactivas de la inteligencia artificial. Una realidad con la que nuestra sociedad informatizada se tendrá que enfrentar pronto, si -como parece- acabaremos dialogando a través de aplicaciones inteligentes, convertidas en nuestros interlocutores cotidianos.
Como muchos otros caracteres femeninos creados por Lynn Hershman, Ruby desdibuja su perfil multiplicando su identidad en distintos ámbitos de ficción, que se plasman en una serie de trabajos, creados entre 1998 y 2002, como Teknolust (2001), una película de ciencia ficción protagonizada por la actriz Tilda Swinton, que por aquel entonces aún no había ganado el Óscar. Entre genética, nanotecnología y robótica, Teknolust toma su punto de partida de los experimentos de Rosetta Stone, una científica que utiliza su DNA para crear tres organismos replicantes (Ruby, Marine y Olive). Ruby en particular se convierte en una suerte de azafata de los sueños digitales, capaz de guiar los visitantes en sus experiencias onírica.
“A pesar de haber sido concebido en 1998, Agent Ruby se estrenó en 2002 como un proyecto web relacionado con la película”, indica Hershman al Silicio. La artista explica que Agent Ruby evolucionó en DiNA, una segunda instalación, siempre centrada en temas relacionados con la inteligencia artificial, protagonizada por una entidad con la que se podía interactuar hablando directamente a través de un micrófono. “Se exponía en una pantalla o en una gran proyección y estaba dotada de voz para contestar a las preguntas de los presentes”, continúa Hershman. Según ella, “DiNA ha sido mucho más lista de Ruby y se convirtió pronto en una pieza muy sofisticada que trabajaba con los motores de búsqueda de la red y podía aprender y crecer rápidamente además de tener una muy buena memoria de las charlas que mantenía”.
Lynn Hershman es una pionera de los nuevos medios y de la escena digital. Su obra se caracteriza por el enfoque feminista y el interés por las problemáticas de identidad y género, un tema estrella en toda su trayectoria a partir de la década de 1970. Agent Ruby es tan sólo una de las protagonistas femeninas de sus obras, que se plasman en instalaciones interactivas, películas y performances. Pionera en el empleo de avatars artísticos, Hershman ha dado vida a mujeres cyborg realizadas con distintas técnicas digitales. Ya en la década de 1970 creó a Roberta Breitmore, su álter ego que sometió a numerosas transformaciones hasta convertirla en una muñeca telerrobótica que responde a los internautas. Cuando no estaban en una exposición, CyberRoberta y su amiga Tillie, the Telerobotic Doll, dejaban que el público de la red pudiera ver en tiempo real lo que acontecía en el estudio de Hershman, gracias a un ojo convertido en webcam integrado en el rostro de las muñecas.
Entre los trabajos más recientes destacan las performances de Life Squared (2007), formadas por una serie de acciones que tuvieron lugar al mismo tiempo en espacios públicos y en el mundo virtual de Second Life donde la artista, representada por su avatar, revisitó digitalmente The Dante Hotel, una instalación que presentó en 1973 en una verdadera habitación de hotel de San Francisco.
A Lynn Hershman siempre le ha gustado trabajar con instalaciones que mezclan el mundo real con los entornos virtuales. Es el caso de Synthia (2000), que visualiza los altibajos bursátiles y su repercusión en la vida cotidiana, a través del agente antropomorfo homónimo, una entidad virtual instalada en una suerte de campana de cristal, que con su conducta y cambios de humor refleja los movimientos de las cotizaciones. Si el mercado está parado, Synthia se va a dormir, si los índices suben, se pone a bailar y cuando bajan se deprime, plasmando las contradicciones esquizofrénicas del liberalismo salvaje y su creciente poder social.
La artista tiene obras en los principales museos del mundo, empezando por el ZKM Center for Art and Media de Karlsruhe (Alemania) que conserva algunas de sus obras más inolvidables como la célebre vídeo instalación interactiva Lorna (1983) y la incomparable America’s finest (1993), una instalación que ofrece la posibilidad de apuntar otro inerme visitante con un fusil de francotirador con la mira telescópica. Sin embargo, al disparar, su imagen es capturada por una cámara que la coloca en el punto de mira convirtiendo al verdugo en víctima.
El ZKM acaba de anunciar que dedicará pronto una exposición monográfica a la artista. Las fechas aún no están confirmadas, pero en principio está prevista para finales de 2013 o comienzo de 2014.
Sin duda Lynn Hershman es una de las artistas de primera división, que a pesar del éxito no ha renunciado nunca a defender la importancia de los nuevos medios en el arte contemporáneo. Su entusiasmo por las nuevas tecnologías se refleja en su opinión sobre el mundo del arte, un sector anclado al valor seguro, al que le cuesta adecuarse a los inevitables cambios. “El arte digital se ha convertido en parte esencial del mundo del arte inteligente, todo el resto es artificial pero está cambiando y evolucionará rápidamente”, concluye.
Review From Show at Gallery Paule Anglim
“Y’all on the death diet!” That’s how Dick Gregory opened a performance at Stanfordin 1967. He was talking about the perils of “soul food” — how fried chicken, pork ribs and the like — sends people to early graves; but he just as easily could have been excoriating lots of other ruinous habits. Which is why, when I toured Hershman Lesson’s current show — about plastic surgery, sugar and iPhones — Gregory’s remark came rushing back at me.
His warning is of a piece with what Hershman Leeson, the esteemed feminist, new media artist and, more recently, skeptical participant in the virtual life, has been saying for years about the effects of manufactured desire on women. Her art focuses on its psychic and bodily impacts and on the forces that keep it in place. The strongest works in this show will leave you nodding (or recoiling) in complicit recognition.
For her series on plastic surgery, Hershman visited a doctor and photographed the preparatory felt-tip drawings he made on her face. They detailed what would be nipped and tucked – and to what effect. But instead of representing that information point-blank, she re-created the would-be procedure expressionistically, with swatches and daubs of paint smattered on the photographs, hinting at the immediate aftermath. She also placed snippets of the dialog between herself and the surgeon across the photos, along with her own apprehensions, rendering both in the psycho-scrawl mode of ransom notes. The results are dramatic, and not because of graphic details, which are mostly withheld, but because the pictures warn us away from the lure of fabricated beauty and its close cousin, self-loathing. The latter comes at us full-strength in I am Not Me, a picture with the words carved into the artist’s skin in the manner of self-mutilating adolescent females.
Sugar — a big topic these days, what with Michael Bloomberg fighting high-fructose soft drinks — gets a somewhat didactic treatment. Hershman Leeson stages photos of overweight people eating junk food next to a list of “bullet points” linking sugar production in the Americas to the slave trade.
While it’s instructive to revisit sugar’s history, expecting the presentation of such facts to alter behavior is like asking people to abandon their homes because natives once occupied the land underneath them. Still, it’s worth noting two details in the photo called Family Portrait into which the artist inserts, with perfect perspectival accuracy, a fake mirrored reflection of the group and a mock “before” and “after” weight loss shot, done in the style of Richard Avedon. The latter injects a note of sly satire, reminding us of the gap between knowledge and behavior.
The series on iPhones issues a more direct appeal. Like sugar, that little buzz in your pocket each time a new email or text message arrives, triggers nerve impulses that scientists have linked to the same feeling of well-being we get from hugs. Small wonder we’re addicted. Yet for all the love smart phones dispense they also exact a price by fomenting the illusion that you can be everywhere all at once. Using photos of the devices into which she inserts images of her face — fractured as if struck by lightning or broken glass — Hershman mines that nugget of implausibility for all it’s worth, reducing a complex issue to splitting headache – which seems about right.
Anyone who’s half awake can see the point at which these addictions converge. Love, hunger, instant gratification and immortality are what our consumer culture uses to seduce even the smartest among us into irrational, self-defeating behavior. That is the territory Hershman Leesen has been navigating all along and will likely continue traveling as long as the conditions she describes persist.
–DAVID M. ROTH
Lynn Hershman Leeson, “Present” Tense” @ Gallery Paule Anglim through April 6, 2013.
Note: This exhibition overlaps with SFMOMA’s presentation, starting March 30, of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s AI-based interactive website, Agent Ruby (1999-2002). It’s an online chat room. Included will be printed archives of past “conversations” as well as a kiosk allowing interaction. Ruby’s machine-generated responses are disarmingly clever and eerily human, but not always completely so. Point that out and Ruby issues a convincing pledge to do better, which in turn sets up a shifting internal dialog between credulity and doubt. Warning: This game of matching wits against a machine can be addictive.
Artist’s Statement: The Radical Art of Lynn Hershman Leeson
By Jonathan Curiel
Published Fri., Mar. 22 2013 at 3:44 PM
It was Renoir who said that a work of art “must seize upon you, wrap you up in itself, and carry you away.” Interviews with artists should have a similar effect. With “Artist’s Statement,” our weekly interview series with prominent and upcoming visual artists in San Francisco, SF Weekly speaks to the people behind the art you see in the galleries, in the museums, and in the streets.
In 2009, when the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded Lynn Hershman Leeson one of its coveted fellowships, it gave her this accolade: “Lynn Hershman Leeson is perhaps the most influential woman working in new media today.” In 2013, that description is still true — Hershman Leeson has completed a series of acclaimed projects in the past four years, and her work is being championed like never before. On Saturday, March 30, SFMOMA begins a major exhibit that celebrates “Agent Ruby,” the cyber woman that Hershman Leeson created in 2001. Hershman’s new gallery art is on display at Paule Anglim until April 6. And late last year, the Gawker site io9 named Teknolust, Hershman Leeson’s film that stars Tilda Swinton, as one of “19 science fiction movies that could change your life.” The ranking put Teknolust one spot above Avatar and two below The Matrix.
Film. Art. Internet projects. Hershman Leeson, who chairs the film department at the San Francisco Art Institute, does it all. And with SF Weekly, she talks about it all — including making films in her San Francisco apartment with Swinton, and what it’s like to be an art star in Europe, where she’s even better known than in her home country
Q: On her dedicated web page, Agent Ruby takes anyone’s questions and answers them live. She’s a virtual woman with big eyes who blinks — and talks — quite a bit. Why did you create her?
A: I made Teknolust, and I actually made the film so I could do Agent Ruby (laughs). But no one understood that. Nobody had ever done any artificial Intelligence projects on the Internet. Teknolust was weird even for sci-fi. But I was able to raise the money to do the film, and part of the film was Agent Ruby, which is what I really wanted to do in the first place. It was kind of the chicken and the egg. The real motivation was getting AI Ruby up and running. I used 18 programmers at the time to figure out a way to get her to work. At the time, there were no artificial intelligence programs that existed. Just as we completed this, a program came out, after several years of trying to do this.
I’m really proud of the piece. I look back at it and think it’s rather prescient, especially for her to “viralize” herself, and to create something that could be downloaded to other platforms and continue to live in different ways and different manifestations. It used expanded technology from one screen to another screen. She matured in her life. And I’m amazed at the stories that came out of the past 12 years, of the conversations that she’s had with people that’s a cultural reflection of what people are thinking about. People talk about George Bush and Osama bin Laden. She was kind of the grandmother of other projects. I did Agent Ruby and after that I did a project called DiNA, and DiNA is one of the more advanced projects — she can talk to you, she has voice synthesis, and she has a memory, and she can search out information. Where Ruby now works like she’s quite primitive, DiNA can remember the people she’s talking to. Her first iteration came out about three years ago. Ruby was the first of her progeny that are all female. And they keep getting smarter (laughs).
Q: Tilda Swinton provided the face for DiNA. How did you begin working with Swinton?
A: I started working with her around 1995. She wasn’t as well-known at the time. I wrote this project, Conceiving Ada, and I thought she was the only one who could do it, and her agent asked what my budget was and I told him, and she said she couldn’t do it. So he turned it down, but one of her friends in Berlin was told about the project, and then Tilda called me up and we talked about it, and she decided she wanted to do it, and her agent said, “You can have her for five days.” So we made the first film in five days. We had the same sense of humor, and she’s so smart, it was a real gift to be able to work with her.
Q: Five days? Really?
A: It was made on no budget, and I had to invent something called “virtual sets” because we couldn’t afford to build any so we just dropped images of bed-and-breakfast places we took slides of around San Francisco as backgrounds. It turned out to be a lot of fun for everybody to try something new and to be inventive. I figured five days with Tilda was better than six months with anyone else. We made the film here. Most of my films I make in my own apartment. A lot of this was shot on the roof of my building. We rented some spaces and built sets. The illusion is that they’re in 18th-century England. It was the first part of a trilogy, Teknolust was the second part, that we’re making about art and human interaction with technology and how that’s changing our species. I hope to make the third one later this year or next.
Q: How do you choose what medium to use — film, gallery work, or Internet project? You also do photography and performance work.
A: The idea dictates the form. The thing about films is that you can very often reach a broader audience than you can with smaller kinds of exhibitions, particularly when the films are broadcast and downloaded. But they each have a different way of coming into the world. And you have to pay attention to what the best medium is.
Q: At Gallery Paule Anglim, where your exhibit “Present Tense” is currently on display, the first piece we see is called I Phone Crack 2. It’s an image of you on an iPhone, and the glass is cracked. You looked distressed. In fact, you look tired and miserable.
A: Today’s technology and means of communication — amazing as it is and as powerful as it can be to change political climates and connect people globally — is also breaking the borders of our individual selves, and fracturing and rupturing them, and creating a lack of cohesion in the unity of the self. It’s a double-edged kind of cracking.
Q: Looking at the full arc of your career, “Present Tense” is the continuation of themes you’ve been exploring for more than 40 years. Is this exhibit an artistic departure for you?
A: If I’m lucky, they’re all artistic departures. That means you’re doing new things and have the courage to not repeat yourself. The reason I put in work from 1966 was to show the relationship of thinking back then — of people being prisoners, of being caged, and how that feeling of cultural entrapment continues in other forms. But “Present Tense” is also not a departure at all — it’s related to a lot of the work I’ve been doing, just in different mediums, so it comes out disguised.
Q: Your 2011 film !Women Art Revolution features interviews you did over 40 years with women artists. You interview members of the Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous feminists, who got started in the 1980s, with a public campaign that complained about the way major museums marginalized women artists. One Guerrilla Girls billboard riffed on the Ingres painting of a naked woman, Grande Odalisque, and asked, “Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into the Met. Museum?” Is it easier now to be a woman artist?
A: It’s not easy. It’s never easy. But I think there are some enlightened philanthropists who are making significant changes, and creating programs to hire women curators and also give money to buy women’s work for major museums. And people are becoming aware of the percentages of the lack of women. In the past five years there have been some strides, but we’re nowhere near where we should be. But it’s a lot easier than it was several decades ago.
Q: Six months ago, MOMA in New York acquired all of your films and 35 photographs. This is the year of Lynn Hershman Leeson, right?
A: I don’t think I’ve begun to peak yet. I’ve got a lot more better work that I’m going to do. But I think it’s astounding that the work that I did 40 years ago, like many of the pieces that the Tate Gallery [in London] just bought or MOMA acquired weren’t seen until now. They existed but they were relatively invisible. They were never taken seriously until just very, very recently. So I’m just thrilled that they weren’t sold earlier and that I have had this great opportunity now.
Q: So you were ignored then, during a period when women artists in general had it very difficult.
A: Absolutely. There’s no question about it.
Q: In 1976, you arranged mannequins in the store windows of a then-major department store in New York, Bonwit Teller. The displays were full of drama. In one display, you had a male mannequin pointing a gun at another male mannequin, who has fallen to the ground. Standing next to the shooter is a sharply dressed woman mannequin. The window was called “Crime of Passion.” That exhibit was one of the first department-store displays where an artist had full reign. You weren’t selling clothing. You were making an artistic statement.
A: There were 25 windows that went down Fifth Avenue and 56th and 57th street. At the time I was doing work in hotel rooms, which I started to do with [filmmaker] Eleanor Coppola. We both set up exhibitions in hotel rooms because we couldn’t show in galleries and museums at the time. And we also wanted to use existing spaces and to recycle them and to find a way to have a different kind of audience come into contact with the work. So the Bonwit Teller windows were another way of using available space and creating windows that people could just walk down the street and see. Art has a responsibility to be political and to change people’s perceptions about the community and climate and culture that they live in, and point out things that are difficult to see, whether it’s inequities or ways of more enlightened survival. Being in Berkeley in the ’60s changed a lot of my political views. And sharpened my strategies for the kind of work I wanted to do.
Q: From 1974 to 1978, you created a new persona, an alter ego, named Roberta Breitmore, and you wore wigs and different makeup and lived as a woman who advertised for a roommate, got a driver’s license, a credit card. You were identity-bending. You also hired three other women to play Ms. Breitmore.
A: The Tate has five pieces from the Roberta Breitmore series. When I did these works, people thought I was crazy. For decades, I was kind of ostracized. And so it’s gratifying that as time went on, people understood the work. The work was speaking to that particular time but it was too close to that time for people to be able to see that. So I’m grateful to have the opportunity to show it all together. At the Tate Modern [where her work is part of the current exhibit "A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance,"] my work is right next to Jackson Pollock. In between Jackson Pollock and David Hockney. It’s so much fun. I love it.
Q: In 2015, a big institution in Germany, the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, is having a major retrospective of your work. In many ways, you’re better-known in Germany and elsewhere in Europe than the United States. Why is that?
A: The show is being mounted both in Germany and in Vienna simultaneously. It may go to London and hopefully to New York and maybe even here. Most of the work has never been seen. It’s true that I’m much better-known outside the United States than here. I don’t know how that happened. I just started winning a lot of prizes in France and especially in Germany. German museums collect my work.
Q: Did you stumble into art in your 20s or did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
A: Well, I could never do anything else. (Laughs). I can’t do anything functional in the world. (Laughs). Since I could ever remember, that’s what I did.
Artforum’s Critic’s Choice
Lynn Hershman Leeson was selected Artforum’s Critic’s Choice in January 2013 by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker.
November 14 2012 – April 1 2013
Paule Anglim Gallery San Francisco
March 13-April 5 2013
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Agent Ruby Files
March 30-June 2 2013
Museum of Modern Art New York
May 2013-January 2014