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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
print, 63.8x50cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Construction Chart #1,
1975, photography, digital pigment print, 48.8x32cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Constructing Roberta, film by Eleanor Coppola,
1975, film still, chromogenic print,20x25.5cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Before and after Roberta's Construction Chart, 1978, photography,
chromogenic print, 25.2x20.2cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Kristine Stiles, First Roberta Multiple Becoming Roberta Multiple
and Lynn Becoming Multiple, 1978, photography, cibachrome print, 11.5x16.6cm/11.6x8.2cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta at Mirror, 1974-1979, photography, chromogenic print,
20.2x24.8cm

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 Seen from Behind, 1978, photography, 20.5x23.4cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Want Ad, S.F. Progress, 1974,
photography, digital pigment print, 16.7x24.2cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Want Ad, S.F. Progress, 1974, detail

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Union & Evening Tribune, Dec. 25, 1975, 1975, photography,
chromogenic print, 25.2x20cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Body Language Chart, 1978,
photographed during a psychiatric session, photography, digital
pigment print, 59.5x79cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta and Irwin Meet for the First Time in Union Square Park, 1975,
photography, chromogenic print, 25.2x20cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Letter from Irwin to 'Rhoda' and
Image of them Meeting, 1975, photography, digital pigment
print, 18x14cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Meets Sydney at Del Coronado Hotel (San Diego), 1976,
photography, digital pigment print, 23.7x18.9cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Climbs Steps of Del
Coronado Hotel to Meet a Date (San Diego), 1976,
photography, chromogenic print, 19x23.5cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta in an Adventure
Riding Elevator, 1978, photography, gelatin silver
print, 14.4x23.5cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Replacement
At Her Temp Job After She Was Fired, 1978,
photography, gelatin silver print, 15.4x24.2cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Contemplating Suicide
on the Golden Gate Bridge, 1978, photography, digital
pigment print, 15.7x23.4cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Diary, 1976, photography,
chromogenic print, 24x25.2 cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Description of How Roberta
Wrote in Her Diary, 1976, photography, gelatin silver
print, 20.2x25.2cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Driver's License (DF219767, SnF 1r.January 20, 1976),
1976, photography, chromogenic print, 20x25.4cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Handwriting Chart, 1976, photography, digital print,
25x22.5cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Check Book, 1974, bound paper, 15x7.5cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Lost Button from Roberta's Jacket,
1976,photography, digital pigment print, 20.7x25.8cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Dress, 1976,
photography, chromogenic print, 20.4x25cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Multiple Is Exorcised With Flaming Vase (Michelle Larson),
1978, photography, gelatin silver print, 25.4x20.4cm

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Comics, Page 1, Roberta Transformation, 1975,
photography, exhibition print, 32x43cm

Comics, Page 3, Amusement Park, 1975, photography,
gelatin silver print, 21.7x28cm

Exhibition view Galerie Waldburger, 2011, photo by Cédric Alby

Exhibition view Galerie Waldburger, 2011, photo by Cédric Alby

Exhibition view Galerie Waldburger, 2011, photo by Cédric Alby

Exhibition view Galerie Waldburger, 2011, photo by
Cédric Alby

Exhibition view Galerie Waldburger, 2011, photo by Cédric Alby

Exhibition view Galerie Waldburger, 2011, photo by Cédric Alby

Exhibition view Galerie Waldburger, 2011, photo by Cédric Alby

Exhibition view Galerie Waldburger, 2011, photo by Cédric Alby

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
- Roberta's diary
- Roberta's costume
- Original driver's license
- Original credit card
- Drawings
- Newspaper ads placed by Roberta Breitmore
- Letters
- Legal and medical documents about Roberta Breitmore, as well as reports from a psychoanalyst
- A comic strip about Roberta Breitmore made by Spain Rodriguez, a US underground cartoonist

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.

In 2010, the public Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester was showing the complete Roberta Breitmore Series and currently, works of the Roberta Breitmore Series are shown at the Tate Modern in London as part of the collection display. The show at Galerie Waldburger in Brussels is the first time that the Roberta Breitmore Series is shown in Continental Europe.

Selected literature about the Roberta Breitmore Series:

- Katerina Gregos, The Importance of Being Roberta, catalogue for the Roberta Breitmore Series, 2011, p. 2 ff.
- Silke Albrecht, Lynn Hershmans Installationen, master thesis, Ruhr University Bochum, 2001, p. 13 ff.
- Söke Dinkla, Pioniere Interaktiver Kunst von 1970 bis heute, doctoral thesis, University of Hamburg, Edition ZKM, Karlsruhe, 1997, p. 176 ff.
- Amelia Jones, in: Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson: Secret Agents, Private I, University of California Press, 1995, p. 104 ff.
- Ruth Noack, Zwischen Phantasie und Repräsentation. Die Selbstdarstellung als Prozess der Subjektivierung am Beispiel des Frühwerks von Lynn Hershman, master thesis, University of Vienna, 1999, p. 55 ff.

Selected collections with several key works of the Roberta Breitmore Series:

- MoMA, New York
- Tate Modern, London
- Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
- Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
- Donald Hess Collection, San Francisco/Bern

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