November 17, 2007

Lynn Hershman Leeson: A Real + Second Life Symposium

Lynn Hershman Leeson: Autonomous Agents

A Real + Second Life Symposium

Saturday 24 November 2007, The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester + Second Life, 1.00pm – 5.00pm GMT


A Real + Second Life Symposium, a collaboration between The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester and The Presence Project, coincides with the major retrospective exhibition Autonomous Agents: The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson. The Guardian’s preview of the show spoke of Hershman as an artist for whom the creation of self-identity is less a vain game than a matter of profound political import’.

Working in performance, installation, video and film, new media and technology, Lynn Hershman Leeson has explored identity, politics, surveillance and artificial intelligence, operating at the vanguard of artistic innovation from the 1960s onwards.

A Real + Second Life Symposium considers the accumulation of Hershman Leeson’s practice and its habitation within live space, cinematic space, the buildings of museums and galleries and most recently, the virtual space of Second Life.

Through 20 minute long presentations, a range of academics and artists will talk about Hershman Leeson’s practice, as well as identity, politics, surveillance and artificial intelligence. Confirmed speakers include Prof Gabriella Giannachi (Centre for Intermedia, Exeter University), Prof Amelia Jones (University of Manchester), Prof Nick Kaye (Centre for Intermedia, Exeter University) Prof. Michael Shanks (Faculty Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center, California) and Prof. Jackie Stacey (University of Manchester) as well as the artist herself - Lynn Hershman Leeson.

This free symposium will take place in real life in The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester on Saturday 24 November 2007 1.00pm – 5.00pm GMT and on the same day in Second Life at 3.30pm – 4.30pm GMT. Contact for Second Life location.

Autonomous Agents, A Real + Second Life Symposium is in collaboration with The Performing Presence Project, a four-year partnership between University of Exeter, Stanford University and University College London funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), UK and with the support of Stanford Humanities Lab, California. Performing Presence is available at:


To book a place at this free symposium please call Sue Fletcher on 0161 275 7472 (Mon, Wed & Thurs) or email

September 13, 2007

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Autonomous Agents in Manchester

Lynn Hershman Leeson's exhibition, Autonomous Agents open at the University of Manchester's Whitworth Art Gallery on Saturday 15th September.

from Phantom Limb series (1988-)

Running through until 12th December, this is the first retrospective of Lynn's work to be presented in the UK and ranges from the creation of Roberta Brietmore in San Francisco in the 70's, through to Lynn's recent collaborations with Tilda Swinton.
DiNA (2004-)

Autonomous Agents will also present Life to the Second Power, Lynn's reanimation of her archive through Second Life in collaboration with colleagues at Stanford University as part of The Presence Project.

from Life to the Second Power (2006-)

For more details of Autonomous Agents, please follow this link to The Whitworth Art Gallery

Follow this link for a streamed discussion on video of Life to the Second Power between Lynn Hershaman Leeson and Michael Shanks, published in Seed Magazine, August 2007

January 23, 2007

Cinema prosthetics and the politics of new media


Strange Culture - the première of Lynn Hershman's documentary "Strange Culture" at the Sundance Film Festival 22 January 2007

Stanford Humanities Lab and the Life Squared Project (part of Presence) yesterday hosted the first online movie première for the Sundance Film Festival.

The movie was Lynn Hershman's "Strange Culture" - a documentary about bio-artist Steve Kurtz.

We are working with Lynn on part of her archive at Stanford, re-animating an installation she created in 1972 with Eleanor Coppola at the Dante Hotel in San Francisco. Gabriella (Giannachi) has introduced some aspects of "Life Squared" project, as we have called it, in this blog - [Link].

Questions we are facing include:

How is a past work of art, that knew no definitive and original material form, to be re-collected (what future for the digital art museum?).

If we are to move beyond the record of the past being identified simply with its preserved remains (boxes of stuff), what might an animated archive, built with the remains of the past, look like?

Can the past be made to live again - albeit in metamorphosis, on the basis of what remains?

And we are doing this in a machinic world that immediately questions the easy distinctions we usually make between material worlds and immaterial "virtualities": images, memories, hopes, designs, fears.

Lynn's movie is about a vital, and related, issue in contemporary art.

In 2004 bio-artist and college professor Steve Kurtz was preparing for a MASS MoCA exhibition that would let 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 bioterrorist, and, nearly three years later, the charges have not been dropped. He still faces up to 20 years in prison.

Because he is legally barred from comment, the movie uses actors as avatars to tell this story of contemporary art, science, politics and paranoia.

For the CIA and FBI, Steve was working in a dangerous border zone, familiar to us from both recent events, and also in the nightmares of modernity - our ability to design, engineer and organize whole new worlds of creatures, machines, peoples. A border zone that includes clones, robots, genetic mutants ... artists and terrorists.

And avatars. Steve's is a distressing case, an important wake-up call about what culture has become. I don't think it is trivialising his experience to say that it is entirely appropriate to have such a movie shown in the likes of a "prosthetic" world as SecondLife. The boundaries between reality and virtuality have always been indistinct and permeable, constantly re-drawn. This is why I use the term "prosthetic" - extension, augmentation.

Watching the movie yesterday in the "audience" was not a "virtual" experience. The screen and sound came through clearly as cinema or TV. But this, of course, was not cinema or TV - the mode of engagement was quite different. (A favorite argument of mine is that media are to be understood now not in a traditional way, according to their material form - as "film", "video", "TV", "print" - but as different modes of engagement - hence, again, prosthetics, not virtualities.)

And what is an audience to do with the freedoms afforded an avatar? The viewing is an invitation to co-perform, to be involved. There were mutant cats and foxes in the audience, guests in haz-mat suits looking bizarrely damaged, as well as everyday ordinary-looking folk.

Not coincidentally Red Herring magazine phoned during the showing to ask about the implications of such screening for small-scale independent cultural creation - daring to inhabit edgy matters of common contemporary concern.