Exhibition view: Dara Birnbaum, Dara Birnbaum - The Dark Matter of Media Light (retrospective), S.M.A.K - Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent (4 April–6 September 2009). © S.M.A.K. - Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent. Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris/London. Photo: Dirk Pauwels.
Emily Watlington speaks with three pioneering women media artists who have been working since the 1970s: Ericka Beckman, Dara Birnbaum, and Lynn Hershman Leeson. Though media has changed drastically over the past fifty years, many of these artists' concerns—which span representations of women, voices and censorship, as well as agency and decision making—remain critical and timely. All three have recently mounted solo exhibitions in Europe with old and new work, and have lately been part of retrospective group exhibitions.
EMILY WATLINGTON: You all approach representations of women in mass media through a variety of means. I am thinking of Lynn's Deep Contact (1984), an interactive laserdisc that invites people to touch a female character's body, and she responds. Dara, I'm thinking of your MTV Artbreak (1987), which shows a brief history of animated representations of women, and of course Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978-1979). Ericka, your films Cinderella (1986) and Hiatus (1999/2015) both reject the trope of the damsel in distress through women video-game protagonists who confront rules. What prompted each of you to take on this subject?
LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON: All of my work questions conditions of inequality and censorship. The characters often overcome inherited cultural restrictions, and through the process reverse the prohibition of verbal expression. The use of interactive narrative structures was, for me, a way of democratizing the medium itself by encouraging choice, which simultaneously created a political potency. Rather than passively observing or being subliminally affected by media, they become active participants in decisions.