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Obscuring Identity: Q&A With Lynn Hershman Leeson

The trailblazing artist and filmmaker, whose multimedia work explores issues of identity, is part of a group exhibition opening in New York this weekend. Source: Creators- Vice Interviewer: Kevin Holmes 2016-02-26

Kicking off tomorrow at New York’s Bitforms Gallery is Touched: A Space of Relations, an exhibition that aims to explore “the sense of touch as a metaphor of bodily presence and an extension across boundary.” The exhibition will feature work from four female artists: Janine Antoni, Lygia Clark, Annette Messager, and Lynn Hershman Leeson.

Ahead of the opening we asked Lynn Hershman Leeson—a pioneer of digital art who’s been incorporating technology into her work since the 1970s and later was one of the first people to use the internet to explore the relationship between real and virtual environments—a few questions.

The Creators Project: You're part of a group exhibition opening at the Biforms Gallery in New York. What's it about and what are you exhibiting?
Lynn Hershman Leeson: I am showing the 1966 work Self Portrait as Another Person which I think was the first sound sculpture/identity piece ever done. I am also showing a photograph of a Guerilla Girl and two works from 2011: Alchemist Wand which detects invisible toxins and Home Front, a doll house in which a domestic violence scene erupts.

Why did you start using technology in your work and how is it important to you?
I did it because it was fun and interesting. It extended the boundaries of space and site-specific projects, and utilized sound and image. When I did it in 1979 I didn't know anyone else had ever done it as an art work.

How has the new media landscape changed since the 1980s and 1990s?
It is no longer different from any other form of art making, breaking ground in a new genre was tough because no one took it seriously for about 30 years.

You’ve performed as a variety of alter egos, including Roberta Breitmore. What insights has this given you into identity and the nature of self hood?
All identities and versions of self hood are mediated by culture and reflective of the stereotypes and treatments of that time of history. One can revoke or reject that experience but, like James Baldwin and Toni Morrison note, you must acknowledge its existence.

Because the online world necessitates us to create different digital personae, does this mean we are all performance artists now?
No, some people exploit the edges of the performative systems and identity possibilities. Sometimes they are artists.

Lots of your work deals with artificial life; dolls, automaton, cyborgs. What about them holds your fascination?
They are humanoid, and they live longer than we do.

In what ways do different mediums allow you to explore different artistic avenues?
They are different audiences, usually the same message or theme seen differently.

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