The following are a sampling of important reviews of recent exhibitions and Civic Radar, a retrospective book of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work.
Edelson’s solo show coincided with two nearby gallery presentations designed to recover and re-situate work by less well-known practitioners of photo-conceptualism since the 1970s: prints by Vikky Alexander at Downs & Ross simulated the commercial advertising trope of the white female seducer, while Lynn Hershman Leeson’s generous survey at Bridget Donahue blended examples of her video/sculpture hybrids, among them the tenderly appointed living room from her work Lorna (1979–84). Each artist contends with the implications of female embodiment and social perception, and they share an overarching contention that public persona as commodity, however you valuate it, is regularly exchanged in the contemporary marketplace.
The majority of Leeson’s sprawling oeuvre has never been exhibited until now. Seen all at once, Civic Radar proves the insufficiency of the ready story of her technological innovation. It’s true that occasionally she reached so far ahead of her time as to be aesthetically incomprehensible. But she paired her forward thinking with an emotional depth and commitment to unearthing the taboos of female experience. The strength of Leeson’s practice comes from its fearlessness in the face of risk – from her earliest self-destructing Suicide Machines sculptures (1962–68) to her forays into cutting-edge media techniques and scientific research. At age 75, the later part of Leeson’s artistic story is more hopeful than the tragicomedy of her various heroines. It also presents a challenge to my generation of cultural producers, to use the networked technology at our disposal to more feminist, collaborative ends. To notice the weight of new callouses, and how they developed.
05.06.2017 The Art Newspaper
The film’s power stems from Bruguera’s frankness in discussing her ordeals and Ochberg’s insights into trauma. They discuss a range of topics, including Bruguera’s father (a former diplomat and Castro loyalist), political leaders as father figures and Stockholm syndrome, which Ochberg describes as “this trauma bond—the person who does this to you eventually becomes the father. And when he is no longer threatening to kill you, you almost interpret that as love.”
05.05.2017 Art Press
Hershman Leeson’s work plays with the interface between technology as progress and its status as a harbinger of dystopian futurism. Working in thematic series, some of her best works serve as premonitions for an apocalyptic future run amok by cyborgs and surveillance. Enduring pieces, including the Roberta Breitmore series, continue to challenge our understanding of personal identity, physical appearance and the establishment of personality markers.
04.20.2017 Art Practical
The works in Civic Radar collectively bounce off each other to provide a fuller picture than the sum of its parts. Themes are richly layered throughout the exhibition, sometimes taking the form of mischievous fun and other times eliciting violence and menace. In many works looking becomes a form of desire where technologies of representation create a cascading series of infinite regresses… The artist’s commanding and long career has challenged normative gender roles through her cyborgs for many years and is due its respect. As Hershman Leeson has forged a path in an uncharted field, it is my hope that artists will further challenge normative structures in the future as the world becomes increasingly global and less tied to gender, sexual, racial, and age-based binaries. Where could Ruby go next?
Artists have historically created work that might not be considered or intended to be “drag,” but nonetheless similarly challenge and deconstruct rigid social and sexual archetypes… Cahun was a forerunner to contemporary feminist artists like Lynn Hershman Leeson, Ana Mendieta, Cindy Sherman, and Gillian Wearing, among many others, who have played with elements of drag, often to critique the expectations placed on their gender. Hershman Leeson created a fictional character named Roberta Breitmore between 1973 and 1978, who even had her own therapist; Mendieta photographed herself with male facial hair to challenge gender signifiers; Sherman’s conceptual portraits have seen her disguise herself as fictionalized characters; and Wearing has manipulated her self image with masks.
We really do have to start over again. But technology can never be the full solution to our problems; technology is cultural, and it’s how we use it that matters. The ways the right wing has used media technology in recent years reveals a selfishness and myopia that younger people can actively work against, using those same systems, since they understand them so well. I think privacy ended in my lifetime: we now carry cyborgs in our pockets that permit government and corporate surveillance on a mass scale. At the same time, technology is a kind of mirror, in which we are reflected, and can better understand ourselves.
03.09.2017 The New York Times
In the 1970s, suffering the neglect endemic to most female artists during that period, Lynn Hershman Leeson assumed the identity of several fictional art critics, wrote about her own work and had the reviews published in art magazines. Ms. Leeson no longer has to resort to such tactics. A retrospective of her work was mounted at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 2014, and a smaller version of that show is at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco through May 21. “Remote Controls,” her second show at Bridget Donahue, also functions as a mini career survey.
03.09.2017 Art Agenda
In this way, the gaze in Hershman Leeson’s work frequently aims to alternate between object and viewer, even if her primary subject is representations of the female body via technology and performance. Lorna features both of these with its choose-your-own-adventure format that tracks a woman who suffers from agoraphobia. A video installation in which the objects in the gallery directly mirror the ones on screen (right down to the goldfish in a small bowl) establishes a feedback loop—as many of Hershman Leeson’s works seek to do—between reality and its representation. Sitting in front of a television, viewers select with a remote control the chapters originally stored on a LaserDisc (now on DVD).
03.08.2017 The Village Voice
While it is not wrong to call Hershman Leeson’s art and technology prescient, to do so would downplay her accomplishments in both fields. She does not consider her work speculative or sci-fi, but rather sees it as rooted in the current moment. As she said in a recent interview in Artforum, “If you’re dealing with the present…people think that you’re in the future, because they don’t know what’s going on in their own time.”
03.08.2017 Vice: Creators
It’s serious business fighting the persistent gender inequity in the arts. For Lynn Hershman Leeson, whose retrospective Civic Radar is now at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, it’s life and death. “When artists are battling for space in the cultural memory, omission – or even worse – eradication becomes a kind of murder,” Hershman Leeson says in her 2010 film !Women Art Revolution!. The retrospective, spanning Hershman Leeson’s 50-year career, is organized chronologically, beginning with The Infinity Engine. The multi-room installation generates “narratives about the future of the human species in the post-genetic engineering age,” according to a YBCA statement.
Tucked away at the back of Vilma Gold gallery’s Armory Show booth is a sculpture that tweets your picture, so you don’t have to do it yourself: Lynn Hershman Leeson’s HYBRID MUTANT #2 (1966–2017). The pictures wind up on the Twitter @batofaneyebot, which is supposedly controlled by a user named Icu Cme.
03.01.2017 The Brooklyn Rail
Scholars and activists such as Angela Davis, Nancy Fraser, and bell hooks have criticized second-wave feminism, calling it a movement that has been whitewashed and hijacked by women driven by the desire to acquire status and material gain within a capitalist economy, rather than achieve reproductive rights across gender, class, and race categories. While much of this is true given the pay gap between white women and women of color, the poignant relevance of Hershman Leeson’s work at this moment signals that we are at a crossroads that, if not handled carefully, could lead to an impasse. As the war on women continues to seethe, let it be understood that until that war is rightfully won, a woman’s place is in the resistance.
February 2017 The New Yorker
This selection of absorbing interactive and video works spans four decades in the career of the American artist, a feminist trailblazer who exploits new technologies in provocative ways. The interactive videodisk “Lorna,” from 1979-1982, displayed in a living-room-like set with leopard-print armchairs and teal walls, invites you to snoop through the apartment of an agoraphobe. The navigation is clunky by today’s standards, but the work endures as a seductive, discomfiting exploration of voyeuristic complicity. In “Venus of the Anthropocene,” completed this year, a white-wigged cyborg-mannequin with gold organs sits at a vanity, in a familiar scene of feminine self-inspection. Stand behind her, though, and you’ll find your own face frozen in the mirror, as stats display your gender, age, and mood, as determined by facial-analysis software.
02.22.2017 SF WEEKLY
Leeson has lost none of her zest, and she continues to question curators’ and critics’ choices, sending off letters and emails that offer opinions and fact-checks. In December 2015, the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s chief curator, Renny Pritikin, wrote — in a private email he accidentally sent to her — that Leeson was full of “egomania.” He was responding to Leeson’s complaint that a CJM exhibit about art and technology had left out important female artists from Leeson’s own generation. In the email, Pritikin said he was “afraid that being an adult with her won’t help.” “This is the tip of the iceberg. I am not paranoid,” Leeson tells SF Weekly. “These things really happened not only to me but to many women — like Elizabeth Warren. They want you to sit down and not to talk.”
[Civic Radar] marks the first major exhibition of her work in the Bay Area — even though she’s been an established visual artist for more than 50 years, with work in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, SFMOMA and BAMPFA, to name a few. “It’s sort of like this strange thing of being ‘discovered’ after all these decades of doing work that is, I think, substantial,” Hershman Leeson says. “I think a large part of it is the female factor and the fact that you are not taken seriously, and certainly my generation was left out of a lot of history because of the cultural repression and eradication, and really, rejection, of anything that came from people of my gender.”… In this impressive body of work, Hershman Leeson creates a space for herself and fellow female artists to confront the art world and reveal the truth: you can’t afford to omit me now.
February 2017 MOVIE BREAK
Their conversation is not concerned solely with the immediate fright of incarceration, but with the mechanisms of state censorship and propaganda. Politics becomes a performance in front of the audience, whose staging was more complex than any stage show. Art is an invitation to the question: it is the social positioning of the doubt, of the will to understand and change reality, recognizes Bruguera’s manifesto. It is not just a statement about the present, but a call for a different future, a better future. For the nations in which the central figure has grown largely, the path is infinitely wide.
February 2017 ARTNEWS
For the artist herself, the attention had been a long time coming. “People say I’ve been rediscovered,” Hershman Leeson told me, “but there’s no re-. I was never discovered before two and a half years ago.” Since then, she has been retrofitted back into history as a pioneer of feminist art and an essential figure in the evolution of art and technology. Art from a different era can appear new if shown at the right moment, and that has been the case with Hershman Leeson’s 50 years of drawings, sculptures, performances, installation, videos, internet-based works, and feature films, some made with studio backing and released to theaters nationwide. At a time when young artists are exploring how we construct identity through technology, Hershman Leeson’s work in all her different media has proven remarkably ahead of its time. Her art proposes that identities are, in essence, aggregations of data—we are all masses of information gathered over time—and that who we become is shaped by computers, television, electronics. We make technology, but technology makes us too.
February 2017 ARTFORUM
But Hershman Leeson’s avant-garde technologism is cut with camp, horror, and feminized abjection, undergirding an eerie feeling that interactivity is as much about capture and control as it is about activation and agency. Between the Snowden leaks and a Twitter presidency, the narrative around technology has acquired a dystopian charge, and Hershman Leeson’s work is increasingly recognized for its Cassandra-like premonitions of technological panopticism. Such anxieties explicitly structure her new installation, Venus of the Anthropocene, 2017. A grotesque mannequin torso faces a vanity mirror rigged with a camera and crude facial-recognition software that attempts—with modest success—to identify the viewer’s age, gender, and mood.
02.16.2017 DIE TAGESPOST
Against Lies and Repression A Special Theme of The Berlinale Are Films About The Struggle For Freedom and Civil Rights
In Hershman Leeson’s new film ‘Tania Libre’, she portrays her Cuban colleague, Tania Bruguera, who works with artistic means for civil rights on the Caribbean island. ‘When I learned that Tania was in custody in Cuba, I wanted to spontaneously try to help with my means,’ says the director in Berlin. This included calls and the mediation of human rights prosecutors… For, as the talks show, Tania Bruguera not only has to cope with constant repression by the Cuban authorities, but also that her own father has worked for the Cuban intelligence service.
Did not Hershman and Bruguera have any fears that the recordings of the therapies could be too intimate? Both negate and Bruguera adds that it is important for her to be seen as a vulnerable person and not as a tireless fighter for freedom of expression. In contrast to the ruling socialists, she would like to play with open cards and not to spread lies, which also includes integrating one’s own personality into the discourse. ‘I am curious, however, whether and how the Cuban government is trying to use the film against me,’ says Bruguera.
Director Lynn Hershman Leeson and Actress Tania Bruguera From The Documentary “Tania Libre” (Panorama) to The Berlinale Nighttalk With Knut Elstermann
Dr. Frank Ochberg is a psychiatrist and trauma specialist in New York. His specialty is post traumatic stress disorders and Stockholm syndrome. The famous Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, after having been a prisoner of conscience in Cuba for eight months, is accused of treason for the preparation of a government-critical performance. In a conversation with the therapist, she analyzes the revolutionary potential of art and a censorship authority that intervenes before the actual genesis of the work. Performance art, with its short-term, spontaneous and ephemeral elements, is a way to criticize the Cuban state. Bruguera can not be discouraged; six months after her release, she invites artists from all over the world to Cuba.
Thank goodness we still have major personal exhibitions that produce extensive monographs of relevant artists, without having to rely on publishers’ taste and economics alone. This thick luxurious ZKM catalogue of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work, produced after her retrospective exhibition, is the most complete to date on the artist, achieving a long-overdue public acknowledgement of her work.
02.11.2017 SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Lynn Hershman Leeson: Civic Radar Opens at YBCA
Within moments, the exhibition introduces many of the themes that Bay Area resident Leeson has grappled with during her career, a career that long remained under-the-radar. The program, selected from a collection of over 800 pieces, seems especially appropriate for the YBCA, which saw thousands stream past its doors just a few weeks prior during the San Francisco’s Women’s March. “Nevertheless, she persisted,” said Lucía Sanromán, director of visual arts for the YBCA. “That is why this work is so important, because the persecution of the female is ongoing in public life”… Action is an important theme for Sanromán, who said bringing the program to the YBCA was the first decision she made as director. “How can we enact politics beyond the symbolic?” Sanromán asked. This exhibition is a step in the right direction, she added. “Leeson was ahead of her time in so many ways,” said Sanromán. “Finally, time has caught up to the [work]. I just wish we were having a different conversation, one that isn’t framed by powerlessness.”
02.10.2017 SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
The exhibition “Civic Radar,” a retrospective of the work of San Francisco artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, opened this week at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It is required viewing for anyone attentive to pioneers of feminism, the development of digital and performance art, or the cultural history of the Bay Area. It is, as well, a reminder that legends are part historical, part mythic — distilled narratives, best told free of muddling detail.
02.08.2017 THE UP COMING
Cuban artist Tania Bruguera made the mistake of conceiving a piece of performance art that was critical of her government, and spent six months in prison for her troubles. Tania Libre is a haunting documentary that showcases parts of the performance in question, along with Bruguera coming to terms with the consequences of creating such an incendiary piece of art. Tilda Swinton lends her soothing and yet scrutinising tones as the narrator.
“The technology itself, it’s neutral, there’s no utopian or dystopian—it’s really up to what we, as a public, do with it,” says Hershman Leeson. “It’s about having faith in the next generation being able to use the media that was created during their lifetime, to speak it—because they speak it better than anybody—to alter the systems that their parents or grandparents caused them to inherit, and reshape them into one of sustenance.”
During a gallery walk-through, Hershman Leeson carefully explains how she came upon the diverse technological modes she has worked with. More often than not she was ahead of the curve, and yet her name is not synonymous with the innovations she helped to forge. This never stopped her from continuing to try new things, however, and she always embedded an unapologetically feminist agenda within them: from using male pseudonyms to write about her work when no one else would to her investigation of the abuse of women’s images through new media.
The videos and installations of Lynn Hershman Leeson, which went on view last weekend at Bridget Donahue gallery in New York, are painful things… Hershman’s work isn’t always easy to take, but it certainly makes most of the other art on view in New York seem so light that it’s barely there.
At one point or another, everyone wants to become someone new. Maybe don a wig, adopt a new name, or adjust your personality. Many creatives have incorporated alter egos into their practices. Lynn Hershman Leeson used hers—the awkward, heavily maquillaged Roberta Breitmore—to explore feminist identity politics.
12.07.2016 THE NEW YORK TIMES
Indespensible books arrived, among them “Civic Radar,” by Lynn Hershman Leeson, accompanying her retrospective at ZKM/Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany.
11.16.2016 United States Artists
Over the last three decades, artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson has been internationally acclaimed for her pioneering use of new technologies and her investigations of issues that are now recognized as key to the working of our society: identity in a time of consumerism, privacy in a era of surveillance, interfacing of humans and machines, and the relationship between real and virtual worlds.
In North America, artists from the older feminist guard also took to the web. The new media pioneer Lynn Hershman Leeson had been developing an alter ego throughout the 1970s, named Roberta Breitmore, who she brought into existence with the help of hired actors and documentary evidence that she manufactured. In the ’90s, Leeson transplanted Roberta Breitmore into the internet, creating CybeRoberta, a doll whose camera eyes upload the real world online. She later directed a series of sci-fi feature films, like Conceiving Ada (1997), which was also based on the life of Ada Lovelace.
10.13.2016 WVTF Public Radio
On Lynn Hershman Leeson at Moss Art Center at Virginia Tech
For as long as Hershman Leeson has been creating her feminist art, she has always incorporated technology into her exploration. In 2002 she made an interactive Internet based web bot that people could have an actual conversation with… years before SIRI ever said a word. It’s pieces like that, that earned her title, groundbreaking artist.
On Trans Genesis: Evaporations and Mutations at Vilma Gold
Lorna… is proof of how ahead of her time Lynn Hershman Leeson has always been, and how current she still is. Made in 1983, the piece is an interactive video installation that sees viewers make decisions for Lorna, an agoraphobic woman who hasn’t left her small apartment in years… The work of this artist, who has been thinking about the relationship between human being and technology since the late 1960s, seems more pressing, current, and urgent the more technology enters into our everyday lives. It’s as if, finally, time has vindicated her.
Fall 2016 Bookforum
Civic Radar, the first major retrospective of Hershman Leeson’s work, presented by the ZKM Karlsruhe last year, was a rare opportunity to view these fascinating pieces. The substantial, handsome accompanying catalogue, replete with a reflective silver cover, charts her practice—from her early wax body parts to her recent 3-D-bioprinted ones—with a comprehensive and illustrated time line, interspersed with texts by diverse contributors. Art historians Pamela Lee and Peggy Phelan and film critic B. Ruby Rich provide deep context; Tilda Swinton, who has starred in three of Hershman Leeson’s experimental science-fiction films, contributes a love letter that illuminates the artist’s ingenuity and humor; and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras talks with Hershman Leeson about the hidden frontier of post-9/11 surveillance (the use of DNA mapping and genetic engineering), considering the possibilities for contemporary activist art that engages with these developments.
Summer 2016 Artforum
FOR THE PAST fifty years, LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON has explored identity’s fluid mutations, creating a pioneering body of work that has presciently engaged questions of subjectivity in an era of artificial intelligence, surveillance, the cyborg, and genetic engineering. Hershman Leeson sat down with fellow artist JULIANA HUXTABLE, whose own shape-shifting work investigates similar issues in the millennial generation, to discuss the ways in which technology both abets essentialism and creates possibilities for its evasion and subversion.
From the outset, [Lynn Hershman’s] work has emphasized audience engagement, exploring the democratic power of interactivity and participation as a mirror to psychological mechanisms and social structures. Civic Radar brings forth the breadth of the artist’s inquiries across artistic fields, and her prophetic concerns as she creates art in response to the media of her time.
6.13.16 Huffington Post
Through intimate interviews, art, and rarely seen archival film and video footage, !Women Art Revolution reveals how the Feminist Art Movement fused free speech and politics to radically transform the art and culture of our times. The film highlights the history of those brave women who were told to give up their dreams, and instead started a revolution. With the rising female empowerment movement, a review of the rocky road traveled in pursuit of gender equity could not be timelier.
Lynn Hershman Leeson on Cyberfeminism, Genetics, and Retooling Technology for the Benefit of Humankind
It has taken some 30 years for the art establishment to wake up to the extraordinary prescience of [Lynn Hershman’s] work, which since the 1970s has anticipated our intimate relationship to technology, the prevalence of virtual identities, and the expansion of the surveillance state—and which is now placing a lens over developments in genetic research.
This book [Civic Radar] is a profound read, offering an insight to this generous and profound artists’ fantastical journey in an era marked by accelerating change. And what’s so amazing is that the content, the narratives, and the histories, are real. It is an Aladdin’s Cave of rich, exceptional artworks, flowing with brilliant ideas. Hershman Leeson has had her finger right on the pulse of what’s relevant in the world for a long time, and transmuted the knowledge she unearths in her examination of identity, feminism, science, technology and more into her own artistic language.
4.20.16 Art News
The embrace of cutting-edge technologies has been a hallmark of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work: she began creating Internet-based projects in the mid-’90s, including CybeRoberta (1996), a robotic doll version of Roberta Breitmore whose eyes were replaced with webcams. She has also made several genre-defying feature-length films, described by B. Ruby Rich in one of the book’s essays as ‘count[ing] simultaneously as science fiction and documentary—life fictions, fictional lives, docudramas, drama-docs.’
In the first interactive video art disc, indeed the first interactive art installation, users make decisions for Hershman Leeson’s agoraphobic female protagonist, interacting with the piece through the use of a remote control connected to a television set. The installation takes the form of a small room, designed to look like a 1970s apartment. A leopard print jacket hangs on a coat hook, a pair of shoes are left underneath. The experience within the installation feels sinister, quickly moving from the tip-toing voyeur to the user, playing with Lorna’s life.
In this installation, you sit in “Lorna’s apartment” and watch a TV on which an apparently agoraphobic woman is shown applying makeup and going about her daily tasks. Flip through the channels, and you might even come across her fiddling with a gun. After a while, the experience becomes a little unnerving—you start to wonder if this person, or a representation of her, will come in and blast you away. The piece was originally conceived as a comment on the sanitizing effect of TV. Viewed in this context however, it seems to anticipate the immersive illusions of virtual reality.
1.8.16 The Guardian
For 50 years Hershman Leeson has been applying her acute intelligence to modern times and modern lives, often with surprising foresight, but always with the readiest wit.
1.7.16 Art in America
In recent years, the New York and San Francisco-based artist has drawn increasing attention for her decades of perennially fresh encounters between technologies and bodies. Her last New York show was in 2008 at bitforms, which specializes in new media. Yet Donahue’s current presentation is grandly quiet in its focus on the old. It includes a scratched painting from the ’60s, along with photographs and performance documents reflecting the artist’s interest in the female body as an object of surveillance and voyeurism. New wallpaper bearing images of genetically modified organisms suggests the internalization of tech, while a projection that one must peer inside a black-box installation to see bends the viewer’s body to the artist’s will.
7.2.15 New Scientist
With her ironic, beautiful and at times disturbing Infinity Engine, Leeson incites us to think for ourselves. Year by year, her art is becoming more hard-hitting and original – an extraordinary achievement for an artist who has been working for five decades.
May 2015 ArtReview
Her work appears to be a decades-preceding preamble to much of what is being produced in New York, Berlin and London today…. Looking back at Hershman Leeson’s career now, the pieces to the puzzle easily fall into place – the artist was on the vanguard of both burgeoning feminist and new-media art movements during the 1960s and 70s, with a concerted interest in the cyborg that unites these fronts.
3.26.15 New York Times
The big question is why we haven’t seen more of her in New York. A major Hershman Leeson retrospective is on view at ZKM/Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, and will travel in Europe, but no American dates have been set. Aren’t our museums supposed to tell us where we’ve been and where we’re going? Someone here should grab that prophetic show now.
1.22.15 Studio International
Hershman Leeson these days is deeply concerned with bio-politics. Her simulated laboratories, her black comedies–or not so comedic–address the ethical and pragmatic quandaries and potential disasters, as well as the enormous possibilities, that scientific breakthroughs have raised, with an even clearer, more vigilant eye. One reason why her work continues to matter is that it has always reflected its present, looking towards the future, with criticality and apprehension, but not despair, believing that we can do better, that awareness will ultimately be our salvation, however uncertain that future is.