Lynn Hershman Leeson is a pioneer in media art. Since the 1960s, she has created works that address the interplay between technology, media and identity and the changing relationship between the body and technology. She examines the new technological tools’ impact on our private sphere, our ideas about individual identity and individuality, and our relationship with the real and virtual world. Her oeuvre encompasses photography, film, video, objects, installations, computer-based art, software and performance.
Time and again, Hershman Leeson has developed groundbreaking works, such as the first interactive video disc, which she created in 1984. As early as the 1990s, she began working with the themes of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. At the beginning of that decade, having recognized that it was no longer necessary to have a physical body to adopt a fictitious identity in the global network, she coined the term “anti-body” to refer to her research and work on a virtual identity in cyberspace. She saw her “anti-body” as a viral presence on the Internet that manifests itself in artificial intelligence forms, such as its online persona DiNA.
In her current works, Hershman Leeson dedicates herself to the latest challenge of our time: new biotechnological developments. Accordingly, for her first solo exhibition in Switzerland, we are presenting recent works that address the topics of biological progress, regenerative medicine, genetic research and antibody research. Some were created specially for the context of the show.
The exhibition at HeK is staged as a scientific laboratory – the epistemological origin of modern life sciences and a place where knowledge is produced. At the center stands the installation The Infinity Engine, which is modeled after a genetic laboratory. This complex, multi-roomed work casts a critical eye on the ramifications of genetic experiments. The installation demonstrates how the boundaries between natural and artificial life are increasingly dissolving in the age of synthetic biology and how life today can be artificially created.
Among the topics addressed in The Infinity Engine are the manipulation of DNA, the production of transgenic organisms and the artificial production of human organs via 3D bioprinting. Hershman Leeson presents these achievements of regenerative medicine as artworks with their own unique aesthetics.
An antibody named Lynn Hershman in its molecular structure was developed exclusively for this exhibition. Antibodies play an essential role in the natural immune defence and are also developed for therapeutic purposes in research. They can be used specifically for the treatment of certain diseases (for example in cancer therapy). In collaboration with Novartis, this antibody is produced, researched and documented with regard to its properties and possible uses. The "Lynn Hershman Antibody" will be on display in the exhibition. Hershman Leeson's examination of questions of identity and uniqueness is extended by a new biological dimension.
Another new work focuses on DNA as a storage medium for all kinds of information. Older video works by the artist as well as all the documents from The Infinity Engine were stored in DNA, which in turn is staged as an artwork in the exhibition.
Numerous scientists also contribute their thoughts to the show. In interviews with the artist, they vividly describe the latest techniques and methods of genetic engineering, regenerative medicine and bioprinting and point out the possibilities and opportunities these advances present. To represent this ability to construct life, Hershman Leeson made the striking photograph Double Hands, which refers to Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel fresco on Creation, where God’s finger touches and creates man. In Hershman Leeson’s version, God’s finger is replaced by hypodermic needles.
The exhibition at HeK is convincing proof of Hershman Leeson’s continued dedication to the relevant technologies and questions of our time. She is rightly described as a portraitist of the information age, a close observer of the protocols and institutions that will shape our concepts of identity and individuality in the future. In this sense, her art is also always political, since she concerns herself with the central social issues of our time.