Selected Texts 1984 to Present
These texts are a selection of writings that expose the philosophical underpinnings of work created at the time they were written.
By Lynn Hershman Leeson (2006)
Recently, on my birthday, a friend suggested that ideally we should all live our lives backwards, and eventually reclaiming our birthright of a celebratory orgasmic explosion. But before all that, of course is seduction. Life begins with a glint, then dissolves into serial paradox of arrhythmic contradictions; pleasure and pain, energy and depletion, security and doubt, and ultimately the balanced nature of artificiality as it guards the boundaries between the real and virtual world.
Like most things profound, we (with exceptions such as Dylan Thomas) seem to have erased our original memories of conception. Consciousness is suppressed, subliminal and double crossed, despite that moment being vital to our survival and evolution.
Claudia Hart reminds me that in the classical myth of Pygmalian and Galetta, “an isolated sculptor creates an inert statue mirroring unconscious amorous passions so heated that they ignite her, endowing her with life. “
Today’s technological heat has birthed self-replicating data bodies, cloned presences designed to morph and feed on cannibalize information, resulting in a double crossed consciousness.
Art that depicted the body, particularly women’s bodies as sacrificed and objectified desire was corrected as women reclaimed their birthright and identity. Many women beginning the late 60’s, such as Orlon or Carolee Schneeman, or Eleanor Antin or Suzy Lake liberated the object and transformed it into the subject.
Today, physical body itself is becoming obsolete. The corporeal body is being enhanced, even replaced by simulations. And this is reflected in the art that is being produce, such as Cyberfem proclamations by (thankfully to name only a few) Thecla Schiphorts, Beatrice de Costa, Nathalie Jerimajenko, Catherine Ikam , Victoria Vesna, Ann Marie Schleiner, Claudia Hart, Char Davies question the discursive notion of liveness. Others, like Yael Kranerak create entire universes filled with artful antibodies that intercept and thrill each other. Second Life is infiltrating the net converting it into a tool for communication and interaction and more, an island where virtual money passes for real money and avatars embody presence.
Artificial intelligent software has the potential to reveal mechanisms and irrationalities of consciousness. The effectiveness of A.I. representations is not simply a matter of rendering accuracy, but of understanding how specific aspects of behavior and expression impact on real human participants. Many A.I. prosthetics empower users by defying linear narrative structure. Inauthentic replacements have become, quite literally, second nature.
In our era of digital and human biological sampling, our relationship to computer based virtual life forms that are autonomous and self replicating as well as the possibilities for age retardation and the obsolescence of death have enormous and unpredictable social and moral consequence. As Roger Malina has reminded me many times, it is a paradox of increasing certainty that 97% of the universe is of a totally unknown nature. Yet the last 150 years have seen a concerted effort to overcome the limitations of human senses”.
Perhaps our inclination to invent characters, personas, and agents is merely a means to find ourselves; a way of affirming what we do not know about the universe so as to bridge and locate ourselves in what is still mysterious.
We as a species continue to invent ways of conversing and symbiotically merging with virtual presences who, more and more, infiltrate our reality. Artists insist on tactical strategies that target activism as a means of converting defiled reality.
We obsessively augment our own senses with the mechanics of subrogated implants , from telescopes to contact lenses; from cosmic rays to nano probes, ultimately creating enhanced cyborgian bodies. It is these virtual presences that teach us how to reframe our own narratives, permitting us to better understand the dynamics of our constantly evolving universe.
Embodiments of Autonomous Entities: Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Artificially Intelligent Robots, Agent Ruby and DiNA
MA thesis by Eana Kim for New York University (2018)
One of the most influential media artists of our time, Lynn Hershman Leeson (born 1941, Ohio) has explored the newest technologies including artificial intelligence and their relationships with human over a fifty-year career. She aims to evoke new sensorium and perception that deconstruct and transcend the traditional concept of time and space, as well as address social and political issues derived from the prevalence of new media with their attendant identity, privacy, and surveillance risks. As a pioneer in experimenting with diverse technological representations of posthuman bodies, she has been preoccupied with the interface of humans and machines in what she terms “techno- human” identity.13 As she writes, “I’ve always been attracted to digital tools and cinematic metaphors that reflect our times, such as privacy in an era of surveillance, personal identity in a time of pervasive manipulations and the essential quest of all living things for communication, connection, and interaction.”
On The Cusp of Disaster
Published in Sloan Science & Film (2016)
I began working with technology, like most important things in my life, by mistake. When I was 16 years old, I was hurrying to copy a drawing. It got stuck in the Xerox machine and became a by-product of that technology’s teeth. A shredded and deformed creation emerged, and it was born pulsing a different life than when it went into the machine. It was a far better artwork in this transformation because it was unique. I had never seen anything else like it.
The Terror of Immortality
Published in Civic Radar, edited by Peter Weibel (2016)
Cyborgian mythology was reborn with a vengeance when, as recently as 1995, live cells were placed in 3D bio printers. When living cells were first placed within ink cartridges (the same ones used in photo printing) they developed into 3D printouts of pulsating synthetic organs designed for transplantation into human beings. This methodology extends the photographic process into one of developing into a new age – printing living tissues including synthetic organs and skin. Skin and organs emerge pulsating and fully formed through accessible photographic printing equipment. Living tissues were assigned algorithmic designs into which were inscribed specific functions when they entered the living bodies of receivers. Instead of inks, plastics and other artificial materials, science and medical labs now use a patient’s actual living cells to replicate organs that the body can recognize and accept. Perversely, this method of replication simultaneously extends the life of biological systems while posing a lethal threat to what was formerly known as “nature.”
Teknolust Director’s Statement (2000)
Teknolust is a contemporary Frankenstein story, with gender reversals. While Mary Shelley was the first to write about how Artificial Intelligence animated through electricity as a monster, Teknolust, focuses on bio-technology, virtual life and spiritual machines which can become our friends, guides or even lovers. Imagine a world in which there is a blurring between the soul and the chip, a world in which artificially implanted DNA is genetically bred to create enlightened and self-replicating intelligent machines which, perhaps, use a human body as a vehicle for mobility.
Talk at MOMA NY (1994)
I created a work that grew out of the Dante Hotel, a ten year piece called Roberta Breitmore, which was one of a successive series of works that critics, curators, and dealers also said was not art. She was a breathing, simulacrumed persona, played first by myself, and then by a series of multiple individuals. Roberta existed in both real life and real time and during the decade of her activity engaged in many adventures that typified the culture in which she participated. She had a checking account and driver’s license, and saw a psychiatrist. Her existence was proved by the trackings of her psychiatric reports and credit ratings.
Some thoughts on the Data Body (1994)
Published in Context Providers, edited by Margot Lovejoy, Christiane Paul, Victoria Vesna (2011)
Today’s technological heat has birthed self-replicating data bodies. Cloned presences designed to morph and feed on, cannibalize information. Much of the art that depicts the body as sacrificed and objectified desire has experienced a well needed correction. The object has been reincarnated as subject, and, I might add, just in the nick of time, because the corporeal body is becoming obsolete. It is living through a history of erasure, but this time, through enhancements. To survive, the remains of the body have morphed into The Data Body.
The Fantasy Beyond Control
Originally published in Illuminating Video: An Essential Guide to Video Art, New York: Aperture/BAVC (1990)
A (pre) condition of a video dialogue is that it does not talk back. Rather, it exists as a moving stasis; a one-sided discourse, like a trick mirror that absorbs instead of reflects. Perhaps it was nostalgia that led me to search for an interactive video fantasy – a craving for control, a longing for liveness, a drive toward direct action. This total, cumulative, and chronic condition I suffered from is reputedly a side effect (or for video artists an occupational hazard) of watching too much television, a medium that is by nature fragmentary and incomplete, distanced and unsatisfying, like platonic sex.
Politics and Interactive Media Art
First published in Journal of Contemporary Studies, San Francisco (1985)
The art world has long functioned on the presumption that viewing art is passive, while only making art is active. Technological change in the form of laser and video art, however, is changing this traditional way of viewing art. “Interactive technologies,” require user/participants in order to function. Rather than offering pre-sequenced narrative information to a passive viewer, interactive media insists upon an active choice by its observers. Both function together, as a unit, as a cyborg.
Romancing the Anti-body: Lust and Longing in (Cyber)space
In 1972, I created my first non-body work in an actual hotel room in The Dante Hotel. The objects that surrounded her taste and background defined the identity of the occupant. In painting, it would be called negative space. Books, glasses, cosmetics and clothing were selected to reflect the education, personality and socioeconomic background of the provisional identities. Pink and yellow light bulbs cast shadows and audiotapes of breathing emitted a persistent counterpoint to the local news playing on the radio. Thus my path to interactivity began, not with technology, but with installations and performances. Visitors entered the hotel, signed in at the desk, and received keys to the rooms. Residents of the transient hotel became “curators” and cared for the exhibition. I intended to keep the room permanently accessible, gathering dust and being naturally changed through the shifting flow of viewers. But “real life” intervened. Nine months after the opening, a man named Owen Moore came to see the room at 3 a.m. and phoned the police. They came to the hotel, confiscated the elements and took them to central headquarters where they are still waiting to be claimed.