Lynn Hershman Leeson

Roberta Breitmore


“Nearly forty years on, the importance of The Roberta Breitmore Series cannot be over-estimated. The questions it raised about the ungraspable, fluid state of identity, about ‘truth’ and ‘authenticity’, the difficulty to often draw the line between fact and fiction, biography and autobiography, the impossibility – perhaps – of entirely achieving that ancient Greek dictum of ‘knowing thyself’, the question of how appearances deceive, and the fundamental constructedness of identity remain; perhaps now stronger than ever given the advent of the internet and the emergence of virtual identities; and of course the increased importance attached to image and self-styling in our ‘lifestyle’ conscious culture of appearances.”

–Katerina Gregos, October 2011

In 1973, Hershman Leeson began a private performance as the fictional character, Roberta Breitmore. Breitmore’s first act was to arrive by bus in San Francisco and check into the Dante Hotel. In the following years, she undertook real-life activities such as opening a bank account, obtaining credit cards, renting an apartment, seeing a psychiatrist, and becoming involved in trendy occupations, such as EST and Weight Watchers. Breitmore placed ads in local newspapers seeking a roommate. This action resulted in 43 responses. She pursued interactions with 27 of those individuals. Roberta had her own clothing, signature makeup, walk, gestures, speech mannerisms, and handwriting. Her activities were documented in 144 drawings and surveillance photographs, as well as other artifacts, including checks, credit cards, and a driver’s license. During the fourth year of the performance, Breitmore multiplied into four people appearing in her guise. The performance ended in 1978 at the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy in an exorcism ritual held in the crypt of Lucrezia Borgia, during which Breitmore was transformed through the elements of fire, water, air, and earth. Hershman Leeson collaborated with Spain Rodriguez, a Zap Comix artist, to document the escapades of Roberta Breitmore in a graphic novel.

Roberta Brietmore - Roberta's Construction Chart

Roberta’s Construction Chart 1, 1975, archival digital print and dye transfer, 58.4 x 43.2 cm

Roberta Brietmore - Roberta’s Body Language Chart

Roberta’s Body Language Chart 1, 1975, archival digital print and dye transfer, 58.4 x 43.2 cm

Roberta Brietmore - Roberta’s Interim Drivers License

Roberta’s Interim Drivers License, issued January 20, 1976