New York

Lynn Hershman

Collective for Living Cinema

In her multi-part video work The Electronic Diary, 1985–89, Lynn Hershman asserts that the diary “has long been a way for women to understand their private thoughts and experiences.” The use of the definite article in the work’s title is one indication that Hershman’s project goes beyond what was once isolated under the rubric “private”: she is interested in what makes one story definite and all others indefinite. Her editing, particularly in the first segment, “Confessions of a Chameleon,” often reduces what she is saying to a sound bite—without, however, hiding this through the tropes of continuity that are ceaselessly repeated in the media. This section is full of special effects that continually split, multiply, reduce, frame, and colorize the artist’s talking-head: the chameleon changes its colors to blend in with its background. This segment makes social norms for women the background against which Hershman struggles to construct a coherent identity. These norms eventually appear even more fantastic than the personas she creates. The second section, “Binge,” was apparently initiated by Hershman’s attempt to lose weight after her husband walked out. This leads her to an often painful, though sometimes humorous exploration of what consuming food and being overweight means in the context of American society. Eventually, by first accepting that rape can take place on a psychological level, she begins to be able to address her experiences as a sexually and physically abused child.

“First Person Plural” is concerned with how Hershman’s childhood experiences reflect outward onto society. She explores her fascination since childhood with the figure of Dracula. This leads her to the observation that, in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London, Dracula was judged by the museum’s public to be the third worst man in history, with Hitler being voted number one. The important point, Hershman notes, is that the museum’s audience is judging a real figure and a fictional one by the same scale. Throughout this section, she replaces images of herself with appropriated sections of film, both documentary and fiction. Herself the child of Jewish parents, Hershman links her experiences as a child to the history of the Holocaust as it is inherited by the children of survivors and to Hitler’s own experience as a battered child. This characteristic mix of materials and images is eclectic, but also extraordinary in its ability to elicit associations that cohere in unexpected ways.

Richard C. Ledes