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Lynn Hershman Leeson - The Roberta Breitmore Series
> Text by Katerina Gregos about the Roberta Breitmore Series
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Construction Chart #2,1975, photography, digital pigment
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Construction Chart #1,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Constructing Roberta, film by Eleanor Coppola,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Before and after Roberta's Construction Chart,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta at Mirror, 1974-1979, photography,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Transformation Process #2, 1974, photography, cibachrome print, 101.6x25.4cm
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Multiples Gather at De Young Exhibition in Front of Construction Chart
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Want Ad, S.F. Progress, 1974,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Want Ad, S.F. Progress, 1974, detail
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Union & Evening Tribune, Dec. 25, 1975, 1975, photography,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Body Language Chart, 1978,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta and Irwin Meet for the First Time in Union Square Park, 1975,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Letter from Irwin to 'Rhoda' and
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Meets Sydney at Del Coronado Hotel (San Diego), 1976,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Climbs Steps of Del
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta in an Adventure
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Replacement
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Contemplating Suicide
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Diary, 1976, photography,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Description of How Roberta
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Driver's License (DF219767, SnF 1r.January 20, 1976),
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Handwriting Chart, 1976, photography, digital print,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Check Book, 1974, bound paper, 15x7.5cm
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Lost Button from Roberta's Jacket,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Dress, 1976,
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Multiple Is Exorcised With Flaming Vase (Michelle Larson),
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Comics, Page 1, Roberta Transformation, 1975,
Comics, Page 3, Amusement Park, 1975, photography,
THE ROBERTA BREITMORE SERIES
In 1974, Lynn Hershman Leeson invented "Roberta Breitmore" as a fictive persona in San Francisco. Lynn created a biography for Roberta Breitmore, and Roberta accordingly was 30 years old, divorced and moved to San Francisco in 1974 with savings of 1'800 USD.
Lynn Hershman Leeson rented a hotel room for Roberta, gave her a specific outer appearance and provided her with an own handwriting and own gestures. Roberta Breitmore got a bank account, a credit card and a driver's license. Roberta was a follower of Weight-Watchers and went to psychotherapeutic sessions. Amongst many other things, Roberta was placing ads in newspapers, looking for someone "to share the rent and other interests" and met with several men that responded to the ad. Roberta was also looking for a job, found one, but was only very shortly working on the job as she soon got fired.
Roberta Breitmore was alternately staged by Lynn Hershman Leeson herself or by actors which were instructed by Lynn Heshman Leeson.
Hershman Leeson was performing the Roberta Breitmore Series from 1974 until 1978 when Roberta was finally exorcized in Italy at the tomb of Lucrezia Borgia. Although Roberta Breitmore then disappeared, her existence remains documented by various artifacts, as e.g.:
- A vast range of photos, showing the "construction" of Roberta, as well as her various facets and her interactions with the outer world
With the Roberta Breitmore Series, Lynn Hershman Leeson not only aims at the question of identity and the process of identity construction, but she actually constructs a fictional female identity which is entering into exchange with real life. Roberta Breitmore and her constructed self thus bordering in between fiction and reality. Roberta Breitmore is a portrait study and interactive portrait performance of a woman in the U.S. in the 70s. It explores the then current zeitgeist, and also investigates the socially predefined role of a woman at that time.
In this early series, Lynn Hershman Leeson encircled issues which subsequently became key characteristics of her artistic practice up to today. With Roberta Breitmore, she examines identity and identity construction and plays with fictive roles, as she later was doing in many of her core works. She touches upon the relation between reality and fiction, as in many of her later works and particularly in her science fiction films (Tilda Swinton starring in them). Also, the scrutiny of gender questions builds an integral part of Hershman Leeson's work. In addition, by staging the series as an interactive portrait performance, Hershman Leeson innovatingly used a new form of artistic expression; art history books even say that the Roberta Breitmore Series was one of the first interactive art installations ever. Hershman Leeson afterwards constantly continued the search for new forms of artistic expression and her innovating approach became a trademark of hers as she in the following years acknowledgedly made pioneering use of a wide range of New Media (digital art installations, internet art etc.).
The Roberta Breitmore Series dates back to the 70s, but it anticipated a development in technology and society which is rather current: Using the language and imagery from present-days internet world, by developing the Roberta Breitmore Series Lynn Hershman Leeson created what nowadays is called a "virtual reality" and Roberta Breitmore was the "avatar". In recognition of this pioneering virtual reality-character of the Roberta Breitmore Series, the Stanford Humanities Lab at Stanford University has recently been developing "Life Squared", an online platform to display parts of the Roberta Breitmore Series as well as some other early works of Hershman Leeson.
Selected literature about the Roberta Breitmore Series:
- Katerina Gregos, The Importance of Being Roberta, catalogue for the Roberta Breitmore Series, 2011, p. 2 ff.
Selected collections with works of the Roberta Breitmore Series:
- MoMA New York back to the artist's page
back to the artist's page