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The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson

Secret Agents, Private I

Meredith Tromble

Publication Year: 2005

Lynn Hershman Leeson's groundbreaking installation, performance, photography, video, digital, and film works have earned her an international reputation as a prodigious and innovative artist. This first historical and critical analysis of her work by prominent scholars and the artist herself brings nearly forty years of creative output into focus by tracking the development of her constant themes through each medium. The provocative essays in this volume, ranging from formal to theoretical to psychological to poetical analyses, establish her place at the forefront of contemporary art.

Hershman Leeson's work explores vision, spectatorship, and the construction of sexed subjectivity, touching on key feminist concerns relating to the lived experience of the physical body and the body as a medium on which social law and values are inscribed. Her projects of self-analysis and self mythification explode stable notions of identity. The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson demonstrates how Hershman Leeson's work uniquely mirrors fragmented human subjectivity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Especially useful are the artist's updated chronology and a DVD with excerpts from several of her works.

Copub: Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Notes

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pp. iii-v


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p. ix-ix

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Foreword: Hershmanlandia

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pp. x-xix

For thirty-five years, the San Francisco artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson has explored the relationship of spectatorship to identity.1 A pioneer of “new media” art, she has introduced technological innovations in her work since the 1970s; her achievements in this field include one of the first interactive artworks on videodisc, the forerunner of the DVD (Lorna, 1983–84); the first artwork to use a touch-screen interface (Deep Contact, 1984–89); one of the ...

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Introduction: Breaking the Code

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pp. 1-11

This book offers the first sustained critical attention to the art of Lynn Hershman. Hershman is a highly regarded personage who rightly figures in any comprehensive history of American art of the past thirty years or so. Numerous solo and group exhibition catalogues present substantial commentary on her art; articles on her work that have appeared in diverse journals and periodicals can be readily gathered or assimilated; and several recent books on feminist ...

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Private I: An Investigator’s Timeline

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pp. 12-103

According to a national database, there are several people in the United States named Lynn Hershman. For example, Lynn Hershman was born November 14, 1949, in Connecticut and died February 19, 1976. Lynn Hershman also lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, California; Manteca, California; and Phoenix, Arizona. I am none of the above. Simultaneously with compiling this book, I hired Jayson Wechter, a licensed private eye, ...

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Roberta Breitmore Lives On

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pp. 104-111

I never met Roberta in person, but she seems as “real” to me as those performers I’ve seen in the flesh—Annie Sprinkle, Tim Miller, Karen Finley, and others. Roberta’s vivacity—her connectedness to what philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty has called the flesh of the world— keeps her alive as an embodied trope of the hinge between live art and its postmodern variations in the culture of simulation. Roberta enacts what Merleau-Ponty calls “the reversibility,” ...

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Composing with Images: Lynn Hershman’s Photography

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pp. 112-125

Image manipulation has accompanied photography throughout its history as the repressed accompanies consciousness. In 1839 Daguerre announced that the daguerreotype “is a chemical and physical process which gives [nature] the power to reproduce herself.”1 Every subsequent claim for photography’s objectivity reproduces Daguerre’s assertion. What the camera sees is true. That same year Hippolyte Bayard—who had invented a rival photographic ...

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Conscientious Objectification: Lynn Hershman’s Paranoid Mirror

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pp. 126-137

In more than two decades of artistic production embracing a spectacular range of media (from performance to ceramics; from manipulated photography to interactive video installation), Lynn Hershman has explored continuously the complex relations between looking, being looked at, gender, and subjectivity. Such a preoccupation is hardly surprising; for an artist dealing with technologies of vision, spectacle, and spectatorship, the political as well as psychic ...

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Media Phantasmagoria

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pp. 138-143

When discussing her interactive video installation Room of One’s Own (1990–93), Lynn Hershman readily acknowledges its ancestry in Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope, invented in 1891.1 Better known as the “peep show,” the kinescope may, to paraphrase Olivier Kaeppelin, be thought of as theater that embodies the solitude at the core of our relationships with one another. 2 In Hershman’s videotapes, we encounter this theater of solitude once ...

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Lynn Hershman: The Subject of Autobiography

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pp. 144-157

Lynn Hershman’s The Electronic Diaries (1986–) was a crucial breakthrough for her own career as an artist and indeed for artists’ video generally. A summary restatement of many of the concerns of feminist video of the previous decade and a half, it turned out to be an immensely fertile matrix that quickly generated a series of further tapes—Longshot (1989), Desire Inc. (1990), Seeing Is Believing (1991), and Conspiracy of Silence (1991)—elaborating ...

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My Other, My Self: Lynn Hershman and the Reinvention of the Golem

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pp. 158-167

At first glance, it would appear that the 1970s feminist art world has been the animating influence for Lynn Hershman’s oeuvre of performance work, video art, and feature films. After all, that influence is inscribed in such recurring details as her heroic female protagonists, the alwaysevident female mastery of technology, her use of confession as a central cathartic trope, and her insistence on airing the personal ill for the public good. But that would be an insufficient ...

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A Cinema of Intelligent Agents: Conceiving Ada and Teknolust

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pp. 168-181

Although he voiced disdain for female scientists, Albert Einstein acknowledged that Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie was a rare exception, a creative woman. He quickly reassured his second wife, Elsa, however, that this unique woman posed no romantic threat to their marriage. Curie, he said, “has sparkling intelligence but, despite her passionate nature, is not attractive enough to be a danger to anyone.” Frau Einstein replied with confidence, “She has ...

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Romancing the Anti-body: Lust and Longing in (Cyber)space

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pp. 182-187

The pretense of being another person, or even several other people, is a precondition of electronic access; an identity is the first thing you create when you log onto an Internet service. Masks and self-disclosures are part of the grammar of cyberspace, part of the syntax of computer- mediated identity. In cyberspace, “one” can manifest multiple, simultaneous identities that abridge and dislocate gender and age. Yet these masking devices are like thumbprints or ...

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Animating the Network

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pp. 188-199

We all like to make a narrative out of our past, as if it could provide a trajectory for our future. After more than thirty years of exceptional—literally—artwork, there is a well-worn narrative trajectory to the career of Lynn Hershman, from the pharisee curators who would not allow sound into the temple of art to the first site-specific artwork at the Dante Hotel, to the Roberta Breitmore “performance,” to the revelation of video and Hershman’s video revelations ...

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Double Talk: The Counterstory of Lynn Hershman

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pp. 200-207

Once Lynn Hershman hit upon her story, she stuck to it—the story of a body with more minds than it knows what to do with or of a mind manifesting through several bodies. Time after time, her tale of multiplicity unfolds, resolves, and concludes, only to return in a new form with the next wave of work. The tributary themes of her work—memory, voyeurism, surveillance, seduction, and authenticity—flow from the condition of multiplicity. How can ...

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pp. 209-211

When I think of the time, care, and help that has been given to this book project, words are inadequate to convey my gratitude. So I will simply say thank you, Lynn Hershman, for your work. Thank you, Moira Roth, for instigating my involvement in this project. Thank you, contributors, for your texts, and thank you, Kyle Stephan, for your comments. Thank you, Stephanie Fay and colleagues at the University of California Press for making the book ...


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pp. 213-215

List of Illustrations

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pp. 217-219

Contents of DVD

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p. 221-221


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pp. 223-229

Production Notes

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p. 230-230

Image Plates

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pp. P1-P16

E-ISBN-13: 9780520937444
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520239715

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2005