Lynn Hershman Leeson
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.