Lynn Hershman Leeson has recently enjoyed a late-career comeback. Over the past two years, the feminist video artist has had critically acclaimed solo shows at Modern Art Oxford, Bridget Donahue in New York, and the ZKM Center for Art in Karlsruhe, Germany, and now her work can be seen at the Whitechapel Gallery’s much-hyped show “Electronic Superhighway 2016–1966,” which surveys the Internet’s impact on art. During a recent talk at Brooklyn’s Light Industry held in honor of a new monograph of her work, Leeson unveiled a preview of her latest project: a full-length film about the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera.
Leeson’s documentary is tentatively titled Tania Bruguera: A State of Vulnerability and will focus on the aftermath of Bruguera’s experience in Cuba. Bruguera’s political performances have been censored in her home country, where her passport had at one point been confiscated after she joined 40 activists in a protest against Cuba’s suppression of civil rights. (Bruguera has since gotten her passport back from the authorities.)
Leeson has made two other documentaries: !Women Art Revolution (2011), which is about feminist artists, and Strange Culture (2007), which follows an artist on trial for bioterrorism charges. Both films deal with artists and civil rights, and Leeson explained that Bruguera interested her because her work had been so radically censored. “Artists, and in particular women artists, suffer so much censorship in culture,” Leeson said in an interview. “It just seemed like this was something that I could easily help with.”
The artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer put Leeson in touch with Bruguera’s sister, who then helped Leeson contact Bruguera. Because they felt as though their emails were being surveilled, they met in New York, where Bruguera came up with the idea to see Frank Ochberg, the psychiatrist who was on the committee that formalized the term “post-traumatic stress disorder.” Bruguera and Ochberg spoke for 12 hours, and Leeson plans to edit their conversation down to 75 minutes.
“Tania feels that all of Cuba suffers from post-traumatic stress,” Leeson said. “They don’t know their rights. They don’t know how free they could be.” Leeson added that her film will also include other issues related to private and cultural forms of censorship.
“She said so much in the film about the situation in Cuba that it’ll only make it worse for her,” Leeson continued. “But on the same note, if it gets seen a lot, it will protect her as well, in a way.”
Leeson has the first public preview of the work planned for June 8, at Tate Modern—British audience members may be able to give good feedback since some may have seen Bruguera’s performances at that museum, she explained. The version shown won’t be the theatrical cut, and Leeson said she hopes it will be rough around the edges. “I think now it’s really timely, and I don’t want some sort of perfect film that takes you 20 years, or even two years, to do,” she said. “It should come out right now, and I think the rawness is part of it.”