As part of the 62nd Ann Arbor Film Festival, this special program will showcase a curated selection of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s short films, followed by a conversation. Filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson will join remotely, and curator Julia Yezbick will interview her from the Michigan Theater’s stage.
Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work cannot be contained by any one medium. Her practice is voracious; consuming both traditional artistic media (installation, painting, and video) as well as interactive LaserDiscs and synthetic DNA. Responding to the social and scientific technologies of the day, Hershman Leeson’s work anticipates the quandaries into which we will be collectively thrown. Her performance piece as Roberta Breitmore (1973) underscored the gendered contours of personhood as defined by the state, laying bare the ways in which we reproduce ourselves as ephemeral simulacra according to these superstructures. She was working with chatbots (Agent Ruby, 1998 – 2002) downloadable to a Palm Pilot decades before chatGPT had broken into public consciousness, questioning the role that artificial intelligences will play in our lives. This program of her short film and video works highlights her long-held fascination with reality, selfhood, and technological reproduction, prompting us to question whether it is at all possible to disambiguate ourselves from our tech-saturated worlds. Her short films shown here distill the impetus of her decades-long work: a quest for freedom from the many constraints imposed on us by society and the potentialities as well as the pitfalls presented by the ongoing technological augmentation of our lives.
Julia Yezbick is a filmmaker, artist, programmer, and anthropologist. She received her PhD in Media Anthropology and Critical Media Practice from Harvard University. Her audio and video works have been exhibited at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the New York Library for Performing Arts, Station Arts Space (Beirut), the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Broad Underground Film series (Lansing), the AgX Film Collective, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit. Yezbick’s works of experimental nonfiction are grounded in feminist responses to social issues such as housing and urban transformations as well as commentaries on gendered labor, identity, and movement and the body. She is a 2018 Kresge Artist Fellow for film, the founding Editor of Sensate: a journal for experiments in critical media practice, and co-directs Mothlight Microcinema in Detroit. Yezbick is currently an Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Commercial for Myself, 1978, 2 mins, video 4:3
In this short “portrait” of the artist, Leeson directly addresses the camera and begins to ask the audience the questions that she is still asking today: what is it really, that makes us human?
Seduction of a Cyborg, 1994, 7:17, video, 4:3
Before social media, Leeson questions the logical end to our media-saturated lives. A cyborg is seduced by images and sounds of the world. Her addiction to the simulacra degrades her body as she helplessly witnesses the tragedies of history ultimately submitting to an existence solely within the cage of mediated reality.
Logic Paralyzes the Heart, 2021, 13:54, digital video, 16:9
The first Cyborg, forged in war, now 60 years old, reflects on her life and her complicities with human tragedies. She wonders about the possibility of breaking free from her own programming and the human+cyborg liberation that might be possible with different directives.
Lynn Turning into Roberta, 1978, 5:30, 16mm, 4:3
In this documentation of the artist transforming into Roberta Breitmore, a persona of her performance art in the 1970s, we hear the camera operator commenting offscreen on the framing and giving voice to the technological encapsulation of Brietmore’s becoming. Roberta Brietmore became the platform that fed into much of Leeson’s work on identity and the many extensions of our personhood beyond the reach of our bodies.
Test Patterns, 1979, 10:26, digital video
An intervention of “aesthetic emergency,” this parody of a television talk show interviews “test patterns” about their life and images as a televisual device. The test patterns answer with psychopathic numbness, unveiling the narcissism within and warning that our media is only, and can only ever be, a mirror of all of humanity’s triumphs and flaws.
Cyborgian Rhapsody — Immortality, 2023, 11:47, digital video, 16:9
Part four of the Cyborg installation series, this piece was written and narrated by Sarah, a ChatGPT‑3 chatbot. Sarah predicts human’s ability to survive if only they can get past their biggest obstacles: hatred and discrimination, but she cries at the thought that she was not programmed to love.
Presented in partnership with the 62nd Ann Arbor Film Festival.
Series presenting partners: Detroit Public Television and PBS Books. Media partner: Michigan Radio.
In accordance with the University of Michigan’s Standard Practice Guidelines on Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression, the Penny Stamps Speaker Series does not censor our speakers or their content. The content provided is intended for adult audiences and does not reflect the views of the University of Michigan or Detroit Public Television.