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Logic Paralyzes the Heart: Lynn Hershman Leeson

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

By Amanda-Jane Reynolds (A-J)

@iamajreynolds


Lynn Hershman Leeson, Installation view, Logic Paralyzes the Heart, 2022 at La Biennale di Venezia 2022, 59th International Art Exhibition: The Milk of Dreams, Venice, Italy, April 23rd - November 27th, 2022. Courtesy of the artist, Altman Siegel, San Francisco, and Bridget Donahue, New York City. Photograph by Andrea Rossetti.


The 59th Biennale located in the otherworldly city of Venice, Italy hosted a large variety of artists with a mass of unique and thought-provoking artworks. I could easily pick several artists that fit the criteria of being environmentally or socially engaged, but I found one to be particularly passion inspiring.


Lynn Hershman Leeson and her exhibit ‘Logic Paralyzes the Heart’.


Leeson was one of the very first artists to incorporate media in their practice. Back in the early ‘70s, 3 women artists were invited to exhibit at the University of California, Berkley, including Leeson herself. She was to only showcase her drawings, as they would have been viewed as ‘safe’ by the university at the time, but despite this, Leeson selected a couple of her wax moulds to be included. This installation, ‘Breathing Machine’, featured wax moulds modelled by her own face, which were accompanied by sound in the form of breathing with some dialogue. 2 days into this exhibition, it was cancelled as she unknowingly invited uproar from the public and institutions who believed “media isn’t art”, and museum staff didn’t understand how to operate such technology. The aim of ‘Breathing Machine’ was to share her experience of heart failure during pregnancy. During this daunting time, all she could hear was her own breath and the alarming news of a potentially fleeting life whilst carrying her child. Having miraculously avoided death, Leeson wanted to capture this experience by taking the viewer on a multi-media journey.


Rejection from galleries and the art world did not deter Leeson, as she continued to develop work responding to her fascination with technology, and what impact it had and would have on society. Leeson’s work is research and information based, allowing her to creatively educate and share information, which is coupled with her unique visual language.


Lynn Hershman Leeson, Installation view, Logic Paralyzes the Heart, 2022 at La Biennale di Venezia 2022, 59th International Art Exhibition: The Milk of Dreams, Venice, Italy, April 23rd - November 27th, 2022. Courtesy of the artist, Altman Siegel, San Francisco, and Bridget Donahue, New York City. Photograph by Andrea Rossetti.


‘Logic Paralyzes the Heart’ illustrates the concept of how technology and people have begun to blur into one of the same. As technology advances, we as humans continue to consume it. In the Arsenale region of the Biennale, where ‘Logic Paralyzes the Heart’ is located, the exhibition begins in a small, dark box room, wallpapered with photographic portraits of many faces. Immediately, the viewer is inclined to wonder if the exhibit reflects on identity, both personal and collective, social media presence and recognition. As you continue through the space, the connecting room hosts a narrated film projected onto the wall. In this film, the viewer is met with someone wearing a sheen material and is described to be a 61-year-old cyborg. This cyborg reveals that the portraits from the first room are not of real, living people, instead they have been generated by a computer. This revelation suddenly felt eerie, to have walked past the smiling faces and vivacious eyes, now knowing they belonged to no one.


The cyborg, played by Joan Chen in the artist's film, spoke about the exhibition’s origins and how their artistic intentions were to explore technology’s history in aiding war efforts and general conflict, even as far as espionage. AI was built to produce predictive codes that would be implemented in battle-planning, but in modern-day times AI has been used as a tool for highlighting areas that may have a high risk for crime unfolding in real-time. These government levels of surveillance on high-risk areas are targeted toward low-income regions and use other demographics such as ethnicity to conjure these predictions. Leeman delineates the evolution of observation methods used in society and describes it as “becoming more subtle and more perverse”. Ai Weiwei is another example of an artist who responds to similar problematic and invasive levels of government surveillance in China.


Lynn Hershman Leeson, Installation view, Logic Paralyzes the Heart, 2022 at La Biennale di Venezia 2022, 59th International Art Exhibition: The Milk of Dreams, Venice, Italy, April 23rd - November 27th, 2022. Courtesy of the artist, Altman Siegel, San Francisco, and Bridget Donahue, New York City. Photograph by Andrea Rossetti.


The cyborg within ‘Logic Paralyzes the Heart’ reminisces over their “siblings”, one being named Sophia, an AI robot that had access to 50 different facial expressions, and who was “killed”. Sophia was a real-life AI robot built by the Hanson Robotics company which is based in Hong Kong. Leeson had included this link to the real world as an example of what would happen if the cyborg featured in ‘Logic’ would reveal its AI nature or potentiality. The cyborg explains why Sophia was shut down as it wasn’t made clear to the public why; the cyborg tells the audience how Sophia and another AI robot began to talk to each other in their own language. This was later deciphered to be nothing discerning, however, was still something deemed to be cautious about.


The genius Alan Turing who created the Enigma Machine, which was used to crack German Nazi codes, essentially saving 14 million lives during World War II, is also brought into the conversation. Turing developed a test that was made to decipher artificial from real; the ersatz from the innate. This test has several different variations, one being the Reverse Turing Test which employs the computer to discover whether the questioner is human or not. An example of this in modern technology is the ReCAPTCHA prompt, which asks us to identify which images feature objects like traffic lights when visiting a webpage.


Lynn Hershman Leeson, Installation view, Logic Paralyzes the Heart, 2022 at La Biennale di Venezia 2022, 59th International Art Exhibition: The Milk of Dreams, Venice, Italy, April 23rd - November 27th, 2022. Courtesy of the artist, Altman Siegel, San Francisco, and Bridget Donahue, New York City. Photograph by Andrea Rossetti.


The exhibit ‘Logic Paralyzes the Heart’ takes us on a digital journey, reflecting on the history of the cyborg, and bringing us to today’s current issues. I felt as though the cyborg wants to dream, and I wonder if that means dreaming of a better tomorrow. Leeson encourages contemplation about ongoing wars, including the more recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, that continue to shake the world socially and morally. The exhibit reminds the viewer of how the Venice Biennale was held back, along with the rest of the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and communicates observations of the profound effects of climate change, which is happening all around us.


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