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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Lynn Hershman Leeson

San Francisco, CA

Lynn Hershman Leeson is perhaps the most influential woman working in new media today. Her work in photography, video, installation, interactive and net-based media have all been recognized with much acclaim. Her 53 videotapes and 7 interactive installations have garnered international awards, including First Prize Vigo, Spain and First Prize Crystal Trophy, Montbelliard, France. In 2005, she received the Award for Positive Innovations in Media from the International Digital Media and Arts Association. Additionally she holds the 1999 Golden Nica from Ars Electronica.

The University of California Press published a monograph, Secret Agents Private I, The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson. In conjunction, a touring retrospective of her work opened in November 2005 organized by the Henry Gallery in Seattle. Also in 2005 Hershman Leeson completed a new media commission for the San Francisco MoMA and a public art commission for Charles Schwab. In 2004 Stanford University Libraries honored Hershman Leeson by acquiring her entire working archive from 1966 to 2002. The archive contains material related to all stages of her completed projects since the early 1970s, including preliminary conceptual research and drawings, technical specifications, media, correspondence and photographs.

Hershman Leeson was the first woman to receive a tribute and retrospective at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1994, and she was awarded the ZKM/Seimens Media Arts Award. In 1998, she was a Sundance Screenwriter Fellow and was honored with the Flintridge Foundation Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts. The 2003 Alfred P. Sloan Award for writing and directing was awarded to Hershman Leeson for Teknolust, starring Tilda Swinton and Jeremy Davies, which premiered in the American Showcase of the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. Lynn Hershman Leeson‘s first feature film, Conceiving Ada, was shown at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, the Toronto and Berlin International Film Festivals and 35 others worldwide. It also received the award of “Outstanding Achievement in Drama” from the Festival of Electronic Cinema.

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s artwork is held in numerous collections, including the MoMA New York; The National Gallery of Canada; LA County Museum of Art; Seattle Museum; DG Bank, Frankfurt; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The William Lehmbruch Museum, Duisburg; ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, The University Art Museum of Berkeley, and the Hess Collection.

Hershman Leeson is a Professor Emeritus at the UC Davis and an A.D. White Professor at Large at Cornell.

Feminist Artist Statement

The 21st century arrived with a Pandora’s box of ideas, tools and technologies such as genetics, nanotechnology and robotics that will affect the destiny of the human race. Our relationship to computer based virtual life forms that are autonomous and self replicating will shape the fate of our species and seem to me to be a critical issue of our time. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with counterfeit representations of life. As early as 1956, before I knew the terminology of cyborgian discourse, I made drawings, paintings, sculptures and photocopied images about the integration of humans and machines which can result in what I term techno-human identity. I have worked in photography, video, installation and interactive and online art. My 53 videos and seven interactive installations have won many international awards. My body of work addresses the social construction of female identity and related issues of social conditioning, most often through the narrative construct of an alter ego or “agent.” I have always been attracted to digital tools and cinematic metaphors that reflect our time, such as privacy in an era of surveillance, personal identity in a time of pervasive manipulation, and finally, have a passion to pursue ideas of identity, memory, history, fiction-fact, and gender issues that are released by forms and genres represented by digital technology and on reflection, perhaps glimpse into the mirror of our culture.

<p>Roberta Construction Chart #2</p>

Roberta Construction Chart #2

24” x 32” / 61 x 81 cm

Roberta Construction Chart #2

24” x 32” / 61 x 81 cm


from the “Phantom Limb” series
silver gelatin print
24” x 20” / 61 x 51 cm - small
40” x 30” / 102 x 76 cm - large


from the “Phantom Limb” series
silver gelatin print
24” x 20” / 61 x 51 cm - small
40” x 30” / 102 x 76 cm - large


from the “Hero Sandwich” series
handpainted silver gelatin print
12” x 16” / 30 x 41 cm

Digital Venus After Botticelli

20” x 16” / 51 x 41 cm - small
60” x 40” / 152 x 102 cm - large

Strange Culture

documentary, 75 minutes
written and directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson
photo: Charlie Kuttner, 2006

Lynn Herschman Leeson returns to Sundance (“Teknolust” premiered at the 2002 Festival) with “Strange Culture,” a brilliantly conceived documentary that breaks conventional rules out of the necessity to tell the story.

Artist and college professor Steve Kurtz was preparing for a MASS-MoCA exhibition that lets audiences test whether food has been genetically modified when, days before the opening, his wife tragically died of heart failure. Distraught, Kurtz called 911, but when medics arrived, they became suspicious of his art supplies and called the FBI. Dozens of agents in haz-mat suits sifted through his home and impounded his computers, books, cat, and even his wife’s body. The government held Kurtz as a suspected terrorist, and, nearly three years later, the charges have not been dropped. He still faces up to 20 years in prison.

Because Kurtz cannot legally talk about the case, Leeson enlists actors, including Tilda Swinton, Josh Kornbluth, and Peter Coyote, to interpret the story. Leeson skillfully weaves dramatic reenactment, news footage, animation, testimonials, and footage of Kurtz himself into a sophisticated documentary about post-9/11 paranoia and the risks artists face when their work questions government policies.— Shari Frilot

Conceiving Ada

Film still from “Conceiving Ada”
35mm film
82 minutes

Themes of love, sex, artificial life, computers, DNA transference, history, and memory intertwine in “Conceiving Ada,” the first film to use virtual sets. Tilda Swinton plays the brilliant mathematician Ada, Countess of Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, who is credited with writing the first computer program. Named the “Enchantress of Numbers” by Charles Babbage, Ada predicted not only the possibilities of artificial life, but also the digital revolution that occurred 144 years after her death. Karen Black plays a dual role as Ada’s mother, the mathematical Lady Millbank, and the mother of Emmy, the young American genetic-memory expert who tries to communicate directly with Ada via a computer DNA memory extension given to her by her mentor, Sims (Timothy Leary).

Ada lived a double life that included a fervor for gambling and numerous lovers, especially John Cross (John Perry Barlow). Ada’s luck betrayed her when she lost the family fortune and died of uterine cancer at the age of thirty-five.

Distributed by Winstar
Winner, Outstanding Drama, Festival of Electronic Cinema, Chiba, Japan 1999



261 Howard Street, 3rd Fl
San Francisco, CA



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