Lynn Hershman Leeson emerges following a COVID-driven ‘parenthesis of time’

The artist and filmmaker will participate in a virtual conversation via the Wexner Center on Thursday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Lynn Hershman Leeson

Following a pandemic-fraught year that Lynn Hershman Leeson described as “a wonderful parenthesis of time” in that it afforded her the opportunity to pause, research and reflect, the artist and filmmaker has reemerged in a big way 2021. 

Hershman Leeson currently has a solo show on display at the New Museum in New York City. Dubbed “Twisted,” the exhibit, on view through Oct. 3, collects works from the entirety of the artist’s 50-plus year career. She’s also the focus of an ongoing film series at the Wexner Center, which continues with a virtual artist talk between Hershman Leeson and Ohio State professor Kris Paulsen on Thursday, July 22. (Screenings of the director’s “Strange Culture” will then take place at 7 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday, which follows past screenings of “Conceiving Ada” and “Teknolust.”)

Hershman Leeson was born in Cleveland to a biologist mother and a pharmacist father, but has spent much of her adult life in the California Bay Area, which she said has strongly influenced her ongoing fascination with technology. Living in San Francisco “you breathe it,” she said via email of the city’s tech-centric leanings. This fascination surfaces in her film work, often done in collaboration with actor Tilda Swinton, including “Teknolust,” in which Swinton portrays Rosetta Stone, a biogenetic scientist who creates a human-machine hybrid.

Of Swinton, Hershman Leeson said the actor was the only one who could have played the part. “It was extremely exciting to work with someone of her intelligence, grace and humor,” Hershman said, noting that the two have already discussed future collaborations.

Hershman Leeson is also currently working on some shorter pieces “on the order of ‘Shadow Stalker,’” an interactive installation that “uses algorithms, performance and projections to make visible private internet systems like Predictive Policing that are increasingly used by law enforcement and promote racial profiling.” 

It's likely these in-progress pieces will bear some influence of the COVID-driven lockdowns of the last year. “The sense of survival and assault and the problems we are globally experiencing is part of the work I do now,” Hershman Leeson said of her post-coronavirus output.

Despite the sometimes heavy bent of the material, Hershman Leeson tends to thread her creations with humor, a tendency that she traced to an unshakeable belief that things can improve.

“I think artists need to be optimists,” she said, “to feel like they can contribute to change.”