Breathing Machines (1966/1967)

Sensor-based wax portraits with wigs and sound

A wax-face with hair in a display case
In her early years as an artist, Lynn Hershman Leeson produced sculptural works that illustrate her search for new forms of expression in art. For the »Breathing Machines« series, she made a wax mold of her own face and added hair to the sculptural self-portraits. As a political gesture Hershman Leeson partly painted the wax masks black to express her solidarity with the Civil Rights Movement of the time and its call for equal rights for African-American citizens.

Moreover, the authentic masks featured sound. Hershman Leeson recorded the sound of her own breathing and inserted the audio tapes into tape recorders underneath the masks in the base. With the mold of her face and the sounds of her breathing, the artist simulates a liveliness, and with this kind of sound sculptures expanded the established concept of art at the time. Back then, the »Breathing Machines« were so novel and extraordinary that similar sound-producing works by Hershman Leeson were removed from an exhibition based on the argument that sound does not belong in an art museum.