American artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson is honored by ZKM Karlsruhe with the first comprehensive retrospective of her work. One of the most influential media artists, Hershman Leeson is widely recognized for her innovative work investigating issues that are now recognized as key to the workings of society: the relationship between humans and technology, identity, surveillance, and the use of media as a tool of empowerment against censorship and political repression.
Over the last forty years she has made pioneering contributions to the fields of photography, video, film, performance, installation and interactive as well as net-based media art. Curated by Peter Weibel and Andreas Beitin, the exhibition will provide an overview of the artist’s various creative phases and the opportunity to view early works that were never shown before. It will also feature Hershman Leeson’s most recent productions, including The Infinity Engine – a live cinematic installation that exposes critical questions about the ethical and social implications of genetic manipulation.
In 2014 Lynn Hershman Leeson was named one of “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women eNews. Her work has been shown in over 200 large-scale exhibitions throughout the world and is featured in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Tate Modern (London), Lehmbruck Museum (Duisburg), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester), and Berkeley Art Museum, in addition to celebrated private collections.
First working in drawing and sculpture, Hershman Leeson turned to performance and conceptual art in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her most influential performance work is Roberta Breitmore (1973–78)—the fictional character that she, then three subsequent female personas, enacted in real time and space, using artifacts of the time. Roberta Breitmore’s conceptual idea of fractured identity and multiplicity of contemporary life anticipated the exploration of surrogate identities that flourished in the digital and virtual worlds several decades later.
Hershman Leeson’s investigation of identity and various modes of surveillance developed into a variety of works, ranging from Lorna (1983/84), one of the first interactive projects on video disc; to Teknolust(2002) which addressed cyber-identity, artificial intelligence, cloning, and the decoupling of sexuality and human reproduction; to Present Tense (2014) which tracks environmental pollution via color-coded films of swimming babies. In her most recent works, Lynn Hershman Leeson includes robots, mass communication media such as smart-phones, as well as the latest scientific developments in the field of genetics and regenerative medicine including 3D bio-printers that create human body parts.
A strong feminist voice, Hershman Leeson released the ground-breaking documentary, !Women Art Revolution, distributed by Zeitgeist, in 2011. !W.A.R. charts the history of the feminist art movement in America and features footage filmed and collected by Hershman Leeson since the late 1960s. It was screened at major museums internationally and received first prize at the 2012 Montreal Films on Art Festival. Among Hershman Leeson’s feature-length films are Strange Culture (2007), an examination of the state control of art, science and public policy through the case of Critical Art Ensemble’s member Steve Kurtz; Conceiving Ada (1997); and Teknolust (2002) – all featuring actress Tilda Swinton. Her films have won many awards and have been featured at the Sundance, Berlin, and Toronto International Film Festivals.
Lynn Hershman Leeson studied at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and San Francisco State University. From 1993 till 2004 she was Professor of Electronic Arts at the University of California at Davis where she became Emeritus, before accepting a Chair at The San Francisco Art Institute. She was recently A.D. White Professor at Cornell University, and Visiting Artist at the New School for Social Engagement. Over the years, Hershman Leeson has received numerous awards and distinctions, including ZKM’s Siemens International Media Arts Award, Flintridge Foundation and Siggraph Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts, Prix Ars Electronica, John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Prize. The Digital Art Museum in Berlin recognized her work with a 2010/2011 d.velop Digital Art Award [DDAA] for lifetime achievement in the field of new media.