BIO


Cyborg Origins: Lynn Hershman Leeson at Bridget Donahue


 

"Lynn Hershman Leeson: Origins of the Species," installation view, Bridget Donahue. Copyright Lynn Hershman Leeson. Photos by Marc Brems Tatti. Courtesy Bridget Donahue, New York.

Lynn Hershman Leeson has been probing the idea of what it means to be a cybernetic organism since the 1960s. This line of inquiry is laid bare in "Origins of the Species," a solo exhibition of Hershman Leeson's work that inaugurates Bridget Donahue's new gallery space in New York. Running concurrently with the artist's first museum retrospective, "Civic Radar," at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, the exhibition nevertheless assembles an impressive cross-section of Hershman Leeson's work, including multimedia works on paper, sculpture, photographs, collages, videos, and interactive installations, spanning her five-decade career.

We find the hybrid of organism and machine, very conspicuously, in the sculpture Breathing Machine II (1968/2011), a woman's face cast in wax with a tangle of feathers, butterflies, and other fauna dispersed throughout her hair, actuated to "breathe" when the viewer draws close enough to peer down onto her. Or in Hershman Leeson's Phantom Limb series (1985-1987), in which the female body melds with sockets and wires, so that technology is as much a part of one's appearance as one's skin or physique.


Speaking in Code


 

"The future of poetry is with the programmers." - Kenneth Goldsmith

"Does everything that exists, exist to be presented and represented,to be mediated and remediated, to be communicated and translated?" - Alexander R. Galloway, Eugene Thacker, McKenzie Wark, Excommunication.

Kenneth Goldsmith's aphoristic tweet has been coming true for a long time: some version of the "future of poetry" has been happening at least since 1959, when Theo Lutz wrote poems using the programming controls of a Zuse Z22 computer.[1] Since then, a small yet sizeable number of poets have ventured into pre-internet computer poems, yielding an even smaller number of specialists who know about their creative pursuits. Not only that, but digital poems take resources to conserve, programmers who know how to do so and, considering that many of these poems pre-date the internet, they are not as accessible as their successors, such as hypertext narrative.

Given the obscurity of these niche endeavors, it is not surprising that Wired published an article claiming that code poetry was invented in 2011, when a group of engineers noticed the similarities between code and language. But this is not necessarily a new idea: the connection between code and language goes back to its earliest inception. Code is language. It seems only natural that code should be, or would become, poetry.


Nail Art: From lipstick traces to digital polish


From Charlie Engman's Tumblr.

For several weeks in August, news of an anti-date rape nail polish circulated on blogs and social media, igniting new debates with each posting. Created by four male university students, the nail polish was designed to be worn by would-be rape-victims; when dipped into a drink, it would indicate if it had been laced with one of three common date rape drugs by changing colors accordingly. Articles about this new prototype were irresistible to social media users—the way it tackled a trending, yet serious issue: the allure of staving off predators with fashion and the gimmick of seeing the colors change before your eyes.

Critics pointed out that the product reinforces the notion that it is the woman's responsibility to protect herself from sexual assault, serving as a reminder of the social acceptance of male aggression. A solutionist stopgap, it seems most likely to spur date rapists to change their lacing methods, while giving users a false sense of security.

One question that did not emerge during this discussion was the material form of this innovation, and its relationship to the body. As Lizzie Homersham and I wrote in a recent article for Rhizome, hands "problematize the boundary between organic human and inorganic tool." In the case of the date rape nail polish, the polished nail is deployed as a sensory device, a technological prosthesis that is also a part of our bodies.