Lynn Hershman Leeson: Civic Radar
Book Review
Oct 1, 2016
Book Forum
Johanna Fateman

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s “Breathing Machines,” a sculpture series from the 1960s, are coolly macabre self-portraits—masklike wax replicas of her face, styled with wigs and outfitted with electronics. In Self-Portrait as Albino, 1968, the artist’s expressionless face, eyes closed, is framed by hair like ratty white curtains, secured with a length of frayed silver fabric tied beneath the chin. As the viewer approaches, a motion detector triggers a cassette recording of her breathing. With this unsettling series, Hershman Leeson, who was traumatically confined to an oxygen tent for five weeks in 1966 with a potentially fatal heart condition, counters the traditional passivity of the art object, as well as that of the patient—and the woman. Inhaling and exhaling on cue, her low-tech “Machines” prefigure the feminist interventions and major themes—alternate selves, cloning, cyborgs, surveillance, and interactivity—that have defined her radical multimedia oeuvre for five prolific decades…