Lynn Hershman Leeson

Breathing Machine

Hershman Leeson Breathing Machine Collection Of The Artist 1500 - © Lynn Hershman Leeson. Photo: Dejan Saric
  • Lynn Hershman Leeson
  • Breathing Machine
  • 1965
  • Plexiglas on wood, sound, sensors, wax, cast face, wig, make-up
  • 32 × 42 × 42 cm
  • Courtesy the Artist and Bridget Donahue, NYC - © Lynn Hershman Leeson. Photo: Dejan Saric

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s art explores the personal and social consequences of scientific advances, particularly the discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure in 1953, marking the birth of modern molecular biology. The process of copying via casting is an ancient artistic technique, but in the 1960s it took on new resonance with the increasing overlap between body, machine, and technology. Cloning, which had previously been a mere fantasy, became a theoretical possibility, a topic Hershman Leeson explored extensively.

Breathing Machine (1965), and Caged Woman (1965), are both wax casts of the artist’s own face. The wigs indicate the faces as women and emphasize the performative aspect of femininity, an important theme in Hershman Leeson’s work. In the early years of her career, Hershman Leeson cast a series of wax body parts, which she dressed and staged in a variety of forms. Breathing Machine, originally housed in an astronaut-like glass bubble, sighed and coughed when viewers approached. Caged Woman houses another iteration of the wax mask and plays voice via tape recording. The sinister implications of technology’s increasing purview over the body are evident in Hershman Leeson’s creations. Trapped both literally (inside containers) and figuratively (by recording devices), the artist’s own body loses autonomy through mediation. Breathing Machine and Caged Woman anticipated recurring themes in her work, including the transformation of identity, relationship of body to machine, and the acting out of gender roles.

Megan Hines

Biography of Lynn Hershman Leeson

  • Born 1941 in Cleveland, OH, USA
Artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson studied at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and at the San Francisco State University, where she earned her MFA degree. She works cross-media, often creating interactive works in photography, video, film, installation, performance, and Internet-based media. Her work integrates art with social commentary and technology. Hershman is also regarded as a strong voice within the feminist movement. Questions of (constructed) identity, privacy, surveillance, and the relationship between real and virtual worlds as well as between humans and machines are constantly addressed in her body of work. She is probably best known for her series centered on the fictional character Roberta Breitmore (1973–78). In her later work she continued to pioneer new media art: her video Lorna (1979–1983) was the first interactive videodisc and she was the first to use touch-activated screens for Deep Contact: The Sexual Fantasy Videodisk (1984–86).