Lynn Hershman Leeson, Still from Conceiving Ada 1995 Feature film with Tilda Swinton playing Ada Lovelace, Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel

The Ledger / Spotlight

Lynn Hershman Leeson: The Redeeming Gift of Humanity is that Each Generation Recreates Itself

Lynn Hershman Leeson, one of the most influential media artists, created her first NFT based on her 1995 film, Conceiving Ada.

By Vinciane Jones


Artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson (b.1941) is internationally acclaimed for her art and films. Hershman Leeson is widely recognized for her innovative work investigating issues that are now viewed as key to the workings of society: the relationship between humans and technology, identity, surveillance, and the use of media as a tool of empowerment against censorship and political repression. Over the last forty years, she has made pioneering contributions to the fields of photography, video, film, performance, installation and interactive as well as net-based media art. Hershman Leeson’s works are public collections around the world including the MoMA, ZKM, SFMOMA, LACMA and Tate Modern. Her first solo museum show in NYC will open at the New Museum on June 30.

Hershman Leeson’s inaugural NFT was minted on June 14 in exclusive partnership with Verisart and SuperRare as part of 8×8: 8 genesis NFTs by 8 major artists working with AI, code and digital technologies. Bidding closes around 12pm EDT June 17.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, The Redeeming Gift of Humanity is that Each Generation Recreates Itself, NFT
Lynn Hershman Leeson, The Redeeming Gift of Humanity is that Each Generation Recreates Itself, NFT

Five decades of innovation

Over her five-decade career, Lynn Hershman Leeson has worked across a wide range of mediums and her career has been characterized by a willingness to explore new mediums and push the boundaries of what art can be.

Leeson’s work Lorna (1978–84) was one of the first interactive artworks. Using laserdisk technology, the artist enables users to explore and intervene in the world of an agoraphobic woman named Lorna. Leeson was also one of the first artists to incorporate a touch screen interface into their art with her piece Deep Contact (1984–85). Participants were invited to touch their ‘guide’ Marion on any part of her body via a Micro Touch monitor. Depending on which body part is touched a different story unfolds.

From 1998- 2001, Leeson created “Agent Ruby” for the SFMOMA. The work is an expanded part of Hershman Leeson’s film Teknolust. It consists of an artificially intelligent Web agent with a female persona and a website designed as the working lab of two characters, Rosetta Stone and Agent Ruby. Through the website, users are able to ask Ruby questions. Ruby’s system changes with each use and her face reflects her changing moods which are affected by web traffic. The Web agent can be accessed on the website agentruby.net. The work is in the permanent collection of the SFMOMA and is its most visited artwork.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Tilda Swinton as Agent Ruby in Teknolust 2000, Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Tilda Swinton as Agent Ruby in Teknolust 2000, Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel

Alongside Hershman Leeson’s exploration of the relationship between humans and technology, the works Lorna, Deep Contact and Agent Ruby demonstrate Hershman Leeson’s interest in feminism. All three works explore female identities as constructed archetypes, questioning how women are viewed by society and what it means to be female.

Inaugural NFT: The Redeeming Gift of Humanity is that Each Generation Recreates Itself

Hershman Leeson’s inaugural NFT is based on her 1995 film, Conceiving Ada. The film brings together her interest in female characters and identities as well as technology. The film tells the story of Emmy Coer, a computer scientist obsessed with Countess Ada Lovelace. Lovelace wrote the first computer algorithm, written for and originally credited to Charles Babbage’s “Analytical Engine” in the 1830s. When Emmy discovers she is pregnant, she worries the pregnancy will interfere with her work. Emmy tries to communicate with Lovelace in the past and eventually succeeds. The two women discuss Lovelace’s studies, her work and how she felt her work was hampered by her children and by the time she lived in.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Still from Conceiving Ada 1995 Feature film with Tilda Swinton playing Ada Lovelace, Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Still from Conceiving Ada 1995 Feature film with Tilda Swinton playing Ada Lovelace, Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel

Emmy wants to bring Ada into the present by allowing her to inhabit her body. A dying Ada refuses, insisting that Emmy needs to live her own life. In Lynn Hershman Leeson’s NFT, Ada Lovelace, played by Tilda Swinton, is on her death bed and utters the words “The redeeming gift of humanity is that each generation recreates itself”. She has come to the realization that her life is ending but a new generation will take over her work.

Emmy goes on to raise her daughter who shows a precociousness with computers and appears to have been embedded with Ada’s consciousness. Emmy is seen trying to give her daughter a normal childhood.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, The Redeeming Gift of Humanity is that Each Generation Recreates Itself, Certificate of Authenticity, Courtesy of Verisart
Lynn Hershman Leeson, The Redeeming Gift of Humanity is that Each Generation Recreates Itself, Certificate of Authenticity, Courtesy of Verisart

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s inaugural NFT is certified by Verisart, an award-winning blockchain certification platform. Designed to empower artists to tell the story of their work, the digital certificates include additional images, videos and documents. For collectors, Verisart’s patent-pending Certificates of Authenticity (COA) form an integral part of collecting NFTs. They provide confidence in the identity of the artist and the verified history of the artwork.

Interview with Lynn Hershman Leeson

Vinciane Jones, Head of Community at Verisart, the leading blockchain certification provider, spoke to Lynn Hershman Leeson to learn more about her inaugural NFT.

Vinciane Jones: The NFT work is drawn from your film Conceiving Ada, inspired by Ada Lovelace. Why in particular did you choose to explore Ada Lovelace’s life?

Lynn Hershman Leeson: I made the film in 1994. At that point, no one had heard of Ada Lovelace, though her work changed the world. She herself didn’t take credit in her lifetime, her discoveries were credited to Babbage, who did not deny them. Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron and wrote the first programming language. She sadly died of ovarian cancer when she was only in her 30s.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Still from Conceiving Ada 1995 Feature film with Tilda Swinton playing Ada Lovelace, Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Still from Conceiving Ada 1995 Feature film with Tilda Swinton playing Ada Lovelace, Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel

VJ: Why did you choose this specific video work to be your first NFT?

LHL: I chose this work because even though this film was made nearly 30 years ago, what she says is crucial to the idea of NFTs. Each generation does recreate itself, one way or another. This one has seen AI and NFTs (and DNA) become a new language for storage and communication of information.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, The Redeeming Gift of Humanity is that Each Generation Recreates Itself, NFT, Glowing Cat still, courtesy of the artist
Lynn Hershman Leeson, The Redeeming Gift of Humanity is that Each Generation Recreates Itself, NFT, Glowing Cat still, courtesy of the artist

VJ: You’ve worked with performance art, installations, film, photography using different forms of technology including AI and now NFTs. What draws you to working with all these different mediums?

LHL: I like to work with the media of my time. It is exciting to help invent the form as it is being discovered.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Agent Ruby Expressions, 1998 Archival Digital Print 30 x 40", Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Agent Ruby Expressions, 1998 Archival Digital Print 30 x 40", Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel

VJ: What interests you about the NFT space?

LHL: I think AI and NFTs are part of a human quest to create a different kind of linked system, a bit like the root system of trees. NFTs offer another kind of protection for artworks, and while I am convinced it will change and redefine itself, it is a new way of understanding connected forms of digital files. It is a type of encryption which is why I’m planning to use John Perry Barlow’s clip in the next NFT. He formed the Electronic Frontier Foundation and was particularly interested in encryption, as was Ada Lovelace.

Lynn Hershman Leeson © Henny Garfunkel, 2020 Courtesy of the artist
Lynn Hershman Leeson © Henny Garfunkel, 2020 Courtesy of the artist

Bidding for Lynn Hershman Leeson’s inaugural NFT, The Redeeming Gift of Humanity, closes at 12pm EDT on June 17.

Join Lynn Hershman Leeson on ART TALKS WITH VERISART to hear him discuss life, art and tech with Robert Norton, CEO and co-founder of Verisart, and Claudia Altman Siegel, the owner and founder of Altman Siegel Gallery. Tuesday, June 15 at 3pm EDT/8pm BST on Clubhouse.

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