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LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON

From early on, the work of Lynn Hershman Leeson (1941, Cleveland, USA) anticipated the impact of technological developments on our lives, and has explored how women’s identities are coded and decoded by them. Through interactive installations, videos, films, net works, photography, drawings, performance and other media, she has delved into different topics that have become central in her work, such as the shifting construction of the public and private, “real” and “fictitious” selves, feminism, artificial intelligence, and more recently, DNA programming. Significantly for this exhibition, Hershman Leeson’s work has at times examined her own autobiography, “the story of a body with more minds than it knows what to do with, or of a mind manifesting through several bodies,” as Meredith Tromble would put it.

This exhibition gathers six videoworks by Hershman Leeson that more directly address the experience of womanhood and the violence and trauma it entails. The presentation also calls attention to the performative nature of gender through the technologies of representation available at different times during the four decades that span these works. In the midst of all this, the question of women in art emerges with vigor, as we experience the marginalization and invisibility she and her colleagues have experienced. Feminism thus underlays the selection of works.

The Hotel Rooms Commercial is an advertisement Hershman Leeson did for a project that took place in three hotel rooms around New York City. The work threaded a narrative that linked three women to the three hotel rooms where visitors could find traces of their existence—breaking into their private space—that were at the same time idiosyncratic to the neighborhoods where the hotels stood. This transit between the public and the private characterized much of Hershman Leeson’s work at the time. The advertisements were “electronic haiku that could, in less than a minute, impart the essence of the event.” They, as well as serving their more obvious purpose of showcasing different people introducing themselves as “Lynn Hershamn,” also reflected her preoccupation with the multiplication of the self and the different personas that might inhabit it.

The artist  further explored this subject between 1973 and 1978 through the character of Roberta Breitmore, an alter ego of Hershman Leeson that she has defined as a “private performance done in public.” Roberta Breitmore navigated the reality of a single woman exposed to a patriarchal society: she saw a psychiatrist, had a bank account, and a driver’s licence. Here we include the video Lynn Becoming Roberta (1974) in which we see the transformation from one character to the other, carefully codified by Hershman Leeson not only with regard to her make-up, but the gestures and language Breitmore used. B Files (1998) continues the examination of Breitmore’s existence  through  the archives left after her physical disappearance, speculating how her life was lived in and outside of institutions.

One of Hershman Leeson’s more important works is First Person Plural: The Electronic Diaries of Lynn Hershman, 1984-1996 (1996), a titanic enterprise of self-revelation. In it, she unveils the violence and abuse she suffered as a child,re-lived through abandonment and self-deprecation as an adult. This archaeology of the self offers some kind of redemption, as the editing of the footage also reveals an acute mind analysing her life’s journey as an offering of some form of healing.

Another major work included in this exhibition is the documentary film ¡ Women Art Revolution (2010), the culmination of forty years of documenting the feminist art movement in the USA. The film is an engaging manifesto by Hershman Leeson and her colleagues who endured all sorts of discrimination as women artists. Through their different approaches to art practice, they opened up platforms to launch fierce critiques of patriarchal structures in the art world and developed radical unapologetic artworks that did not care for the traditional male-dominated art criticism.

The construction of characters, both in life and fiction—a topic that has interested Hershman Leeson since the beginning of her practice—continues in one of her more recent films, VertiGhost (2017). A critical re-interpretation of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo (1958), the film follows ghosts of different kinds, the remains left by people and objects that keep haunting the present: “Ghosts of each era wander in a purgatory of unexposed secrets and refuse to rest until their stories are told.”

This exhibition is a partnership between Videobrasil and KADIST. We would like to thank Lynn Hershman Leeson.

 

Catalina Lozano

Independent curator and Director of Programs in Latin America at KADIST

Hotel Rooms Commercial, 1974
Film converted to 4k video, 1'44"

The TV commercials were produced to advertise a project Lynn Hershman Leeson developed in New York and that took place at three different hotels. Different people claiming to be Lynn Hershman invite viewers to their rooms. The artist claims that more people saw the ads than the actual work, and, in the end, together with a few photographs, they are all that remains of the project.

Lynn Becoming Roberta, 1974
Film converted to 4k, 5'24"

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. This film shows Hershman Leeson methodically becoming Roberta while listening to the idiosyncratic song Hotel California".

B Files, 1998
4k video, 23'30''

The story of Roberta Britemore re-emerges from the archives years after her disappearance. A man becomes obsessed with her origins and what became of her, following all sorts of speculations about her life, including the hypothesis that she was the Walter Benjamin's daughter.

! Women Art Revolution (W.A.R.), 2010
35mm & Digital, 83'

Hershman Leeson’s documentary, ! Women Art Revolution (W.A.R.) draws from hundreds of hours of intimate interviews with her contemporaries—visionary artists, historians, curators and critics—who recount their fight to break down the barriers facing women both in the art world and society at large. The film features an original score by Carrie Brownstein, formerly of the band Sleater-Kinney.

First Person Plural: The Electronic Diaries of Lynn Hershman, 1984-1996
Video, 75'

In 1984, after teaching herself how to use a video camera, Lynn Hershman Leeson sat down in front of it and began to talk. She modeled what we take as commonplace in today’s online culture: confessional expression for an unknown audience. Over the years, Hershman Leeson filmed herself as she developed a profound relationship with her own mediation through the camera’s gaze. At turns frank and sly, honest and performative, she slowly takes a deep, inward turn to examine her foundational memories of violence and psychological harm—unbearable, unspoken truths she saw often buried and carried by women. In linking these traumas to their systemic causes and historical reproduction, and then speaking them aloud, Hershman Leeson forges an artistic path to survival.

VertiGhost, 2017
Video, 12'47"

Commissioned by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Lynn Hershman Leeson’s VertiGhost is inspired by and reinterprets Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo (1958), key scenes for which were shot at the Legion of Honor. VertiGhost explores the tension between the difficulty or lack of desire to distinguish between reality and fiction versus the pursuit of truth. The film features the re-creation of select scenes from Vertigo, documentation of a painting by Amedeo Modigliani in the Museums’ collection that was enshrouded by questions of authenticity, as well as interviews about the construction of realities in life and art.

Women Artists in KADIST’s and Videobrasil’s Collections is the result of a six-month collaboration between the organizations, comprising three exhibitions that delve into the work of women artists who explore specific ways of creating moving images from situated perspectives. Spanning diverse sensibilities, methodologies and media, the works consider different ways of approaching art practice, knowledge, and the relation to the present from clearly feminist positions, affirming the agency of art as a transformative force.

The first two exhibitions are devoted to the work of Lynn Hershman Leeson (Sep. 27th – Nov. 28th 2021) and Gabriela Golder (Nov. 29th, 2021 – Jan. 23rd, 2022), respectively. While the first explores the experience of womanhood and violence and the trauma it entails, as well as the struggles of women artists to gain equal conditions in the art world, the second addresses topics that touch on gender issues, such as the relationship between work and identity, from a feminine and political perspective.

Finally, a group exhibition (Jan. 24th – March 27th, 2022) will bring together a selection of works from Videobrasil’s archive and the KADIST Collection emphasizing women’s diverse points of view on a myriad of issues. The programme offers an instigating survey of the contribution of women artists who work in the north and south axes—of both art and the world—to the field of video and to confronting key issues of our present times.

 

ABOUT VIDEOBRASIL

Founded by Solange O. Farkas, the Associação Cultural Videobrasil develops and carries out curatorial and research actions with a focus on the audiovisual production of the geopolitical South. Its projects draw on the Videobrasil Collection: a collection of artworks, publications and documents amassed since the first edition of the Videobrasil Contemporary Art Festival, in 1983, during which Brazil – and most of Latin America – was under a military regime. Created in the beginning of 1990 and based on a rigorous process of qualification and updating, the Videobrasil Collection features roughly 1,700 works from the art scene of the geopolitical South – Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The collection constitutes an inestimable wellspring for research on the production of the geopolitical South, which is marked by the use of the video medium for political, combative and liberational purposes.

 

ABOUT KADIST

KADIST believes contemporary artists make an important contribution to a progressive society, their work often addressing key issues of our time. KADIST, a non-profit organization dedicated to exhibiting the work of artists represented in its collection, encourages this engagement and affirms contemporary art’s relevance within social discourse. KADIST’s local hubs in Paris and San Francisco present exhibitions and events, and organize residencies and educational initiatives, as well as producing projects online and via social media. Concurrently, KADIST is actively establishing networks across five areas—North America, Europe, Middle East & Africa, Asia and Latin America—inviting new artists into the collection and initiating collaborative programs, especially exhibitions with museums of each region. Together, they aim at facilitating new connections across cultures and creating vibrant conversations about contemporary art and ideas.