Date: December 13, 2017
Statement: Lynn Hershman
I divide my work into two categories: B.C. and A.D. Before Computers and After Digital. The first coincidentally began in Berkeley, California. In the 1960’s, I could hear amplified speeches of hero/radicals, such as Malcolm X and Huey Newton through my open windows. Ideals of community, alternatives, reprocessed media, free speech and civil rights were constantly in the air. In those next volatile years, art and life fused as I watched political performances take place in the streets, on marches and in buses and witnessed lifestyles emancipate formerly voiceless individuals into communal empowerment. I hoped for an eventual media through which small voices could be reborn into alternative identities that could reflect into the culture.
A.D. works also used ideas of reflection, often incorporating surveillance and voyeurism. A requirement of cyberspace, like that of many primitive tribes, is to create a personal mask. Masks camouflage the body and in doing so liberate and give voice to virtual selves. While disguised, personal truth can be released yet the fragile and tenuous face of vulnerability remains protected. Masks are part of the grammar of cyberspace. It is the syntax of the culture of computer mediated identity, a culture that can also include simultaneous multiple identities that abridge or dislocate real time gender and age.
Texts by Lynn Hershman
Edited by Randall Packer
Lynn Hershman’s statement is lifted from this archive of multimedia history website Wagner to Virtual Reality. If you have not had a chance to browse through the fluid model of information, I highly suggest it. While the content of history here is primarily a white male canon of inventors, engineers, and scientists, I noticed Lynn’s statement above that gave support to some questions about my own virtual self.
Currently questioning, my own levels of disconnection with my body noting the liberation I feel when I do so. One might call this escapism, however, this form of separation is highly productive in digital space, that later informs my reality. For me, escapism relates to binge-watching TV or movies in order to not be productive. I would even put some video games into this mix, while I could argue how some video games are not escapism. That conversation later. #mmorpgforlife
The word syntax has been invading my world lately, and I am curious about the way in which Hersman types about, “Masks are part of the grammar of cyberspace. It is the syntax of the culture of computer mediated identity, a culture that can also include simultaneous multiple identities that abridge or dislocate real time gender and age.” The mask situates itself as a shield to provide a present moment, honest response to what is important at the moment by the user. Creating invisibility allows for accessibility, and creates a new landscape to interact with. We see this language come to a ripeness in the comment sections that detail our current virtual state of interactions on every page in the digital frontier. While the generational boundaries have been obliterated and gender can be hidden, the data collected can serve as we move forward.
Her use of the word “mask” sits deep with me since my alter-ego LROD wears a mask to censor identity and explore present moment techniques. Reading Herman’s statement I realize that I am using my virtual self’s mask and interactions in my reality to bridge these two worlds and discover the feeling of freedom in real life. Hersman herself spent four years as one of her alter-egos. Her work here was to engage with different masks and develop a clearer understanding for this idea and persona development.
After viewing the works by Hershman here I realize how important her work was/is. Her work comments on issues that are being realized now – almost like she can see the future. Hershman’s work not only inspires, but leaves me questioning more of the ethics and surveillance surrounding the work I do in virtual space and reality.
Highlights from Hershman’s website:
Advertisement for The Dante Hotel, 1973, newspaper clipping, 17.8 x 7.6 cm
In this site-specific installation, which existed from November 30, 1973, to August 31, 1974, Hershman staged the occupation of a room in a rundown hotel in the North Beach area of San Francisco. Traces of use, such as cosmetics and clothing, were on view, along with two life-size dolls installed in the bed. Sounds of breathing, emitted from a hidden tape player, created the impression that the pair were simply asleep. A radio played local news, and pink and yellow light bulbs contributed to the ambiance. Potential visitors learned about the installation through newspaper ads placed by the artist.
Room of One’s Own, 1993, interior view, interactive apparatus (computer, laser disk, projection, surveillance system cameras, monitor, miniature furnishing), 38 x 40.5 x 89.5 cm
In this interactive installation, the spectator can peer into a miniature bedroom. A movable periscope viewer tracks the movements of the voyeur’s eyes, triggering videos of the female occupant to be projected onto the bedroom wall. As the viewer focuses on the different objects contained in the space, particular scenes from the videodisc are shown, accompanied by recorded questions, demands, or protests from the character. Close-up surveillance footage of the viewer’s moving eye, in turn, is captured in real-time and appears on a small television monitor inside the room, reversing his or her gaze.
Agent Ruby ’s EDream Portal, 2002, screenshot: agentruby.net
The interactive, multiuser work Agent Ruby is an expanded cinema part of Hershman Leeson’s film Teknolust. The work consists of an artificially intelligent Web agent with a female persona and a website designed as the working lab of two of the Teknolust characters Rosetta Stone and Agent Ruby. Ruby, who appears as a female face with shifting expressions, chats with users and can remember their questions—although she often responds that she needs a better algorithm to reply. When prompted, she searches the Internet for information and increases her body of knowledge. Ruby ’s internal system continually changes with use, reflecting these encounters; even her moods are directly affected by web traffic. The Web agent can be accessed on the website agentruby.net.
I spent a good hour engaging in conversation with Agent Ruby, which was interesting since it has been about sixteen years since their birth. This also seems trivial in a time of Siri and Alexa, but to chat in conversation and witness Ruby’s face change effects how you perceive this AI.
All pictures and information from works from www.lynnhershman.com