I Express and Therefore I Am: Lynn Hershman Leeson's (In)Visible and (Dis-)Embodied Constructed Identities
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In this thesis I evaluate the role of the body, visuality and visibility in constituting identities by analysing The Dante Hotel and The Novalis Hotel, two art installations made by Lynn Hershman Leeson. The differences between the art installations characterize the shift from materiality and surveillance to digitality and dataveillance. Surveillance tactics rely on visibility and read the surveyed objects' bodies through their outward performed bodily inscriptions. In contemporary society, dataveillance processes have emerged. These mechanisms do not rely on visible bodies anymore but have the power to deduce identities from metadata. I investigate how this shift is emphasized in the art installations in which material and digital artefacts are deliberately arranged by Hershman Leeson in order to represent the identities of the former inhabitants. By anticipating processes of signification with regards to the inanimate objects, Hershman Leeson implies identities for the audience to infer. By departing from a poststructuralist methodological framework and using semiotics as research method, I deconstruct the socially constructed and naturalised relation between signs and its connotations upon which both surveillance and dataveillance mechanisms rely in order to construct their objects' identities. By using the concept of performativity, a concept specifically helpful in understanding how identity is founded on socially constructed conventions, and the concept of the simulacrum or hyperreal, a concept that is useful for understanding how socially constructed conventions are perpetuated, I show how contemporary dataveillance mechanisms reinforce the arbitrary relation between signs and meanings and create false notions of 'realities' and agency.