Marée Noire + Teknolust
Lendl Barcelos
October 7, 2023


In the heart of Silicon Valley, long before the human genome was fully sequenced and the revolutionary CRISPR gene-editing technique emerged, Lynn Hershman Leeson embarked on a visionary journey that fused biology, technology and feminism into a unique brand of artistry. Her groundbreaking multimedia works not only defied the boundaries of contemporary art but also foreshadowed a future where science fiction and reality would intersect.

Teknolust (2003) was the first feature film shot on 24 frames-per-second Hi-Def with HD graphic conversion. The story is simple. Leeson's film follows the bio-geneticist, Dr. Rosetta Stone, and her trio of self-replicating automatons (SRAs) that she cloned from her own DNA: Ruby (red), Olive (green) and Marinne (blue)—all played by Tilda Swinton. The clones require Y-chromosomes to survive, so Ruby is tasked with seducing men and collecting their ejaculate. However, two things happen to make this basic story somewhat more complex: sex with Ruby causes the men to become infected, as if by a computer virus, and Ruby meets a man she falls in love with, Sandy (Jeremy Davies), making her reluctant to continue her with extractivist seductions.

But, behind this heteronormative façade of the cis male-female love story, lies a deeper narrative that challenges our perceptions of desire in a technologically driven world. Dr. Rosetta Stone serves as a symbol of a woman consumed by her scientific pursuits, leaving her alienated from her own desires, which are channeled into her clones, particularly Ruby. The costume design of Marianna Aström Defina and Yohji Yamamoto reinforce this idea through the contrast of the chic colour-coded garments of the clones and the nerdy, bookish clothing of Dr. Rosetta Stone.

Tilda Swinton's mesmerizing ability to shape-shift through various identities within the film offers a prismatic probe of personality and temperament. Moments such as Dr. Rosetta Stone's visit to a hair salon, where she seeks to look entirely different, prompt questions about identity and self-expression. However, her request to resemble Björk adds an unexpected twist to the scene. This is juxtaposed later with a visit to the same salon by Marinne and Olive, where the innocent hairstylist mistakenly assumes Marinne to be Dr. Stone. When asked if she wants to look like Björk, Marinne simply responds, "I'd like to look like myself."

At the heart of Teknolust, a pivotal enigma beckons us to explore the essence of Dr. Stone's SRAs. These enigmatic self-replicating automatons transcend the realm of ordinary clones; they embody an amalgamation of organic substance and cutting-edge software. With a composition that is precisely divided into 50% human and 50% software, they dissolve the boundaries separating human flesh from intricate lines of code. In Leeson's imaginative film, this intricate fusion is 'surrealized' [PT: 'surrealizar' past-tense], bridging the gap between the world of computers and humans in captivating ways. Human hosts become unwittingly infected with computer viruses; coded clones venture forth from their digital confines, breaking free from the screens—in this case a microwave—that once contained them and venture into the tangible world to embark on unexpected journeys that blur the line between the virtual and the real.

Each night Ruby is trained on romantic scenes from films while she sleeps, memorizing pick-up lines to refine her technique of seduction. This preparation for a kind of 'gender warfare' reaches its farcical climax when Ruby finds herself compelled to alter her habits for Sandy, due to her burgeoning affection for Sandy. On their night out, at a donut shop, Ruby—who is hilariously oblivious to the concept of money—is taken aback when the cashier requests for payment. So she attempts to pay using the condoms she has in her purse. This unsubtle reference to Ruby's customary libidinal economy, built on sex, seduction and desire, encounters an unexpected roadblock as the cashier insists that only money is a valid form of payment. Leeson is insisting: sex cannot buy you everything.

Lynn Hershman Leeson's Teknolust is a cinematic journey that traverses the intellectual and artistic landscape of cyberfeminist icons such as Donna Haraway, Sadie Plant, VNS Matrix and 0rphan Drift. The film poses gendered problems about identity, sexuality, self-expression and the ever-evolving relationship with technology.

Lendl Barcelos

Artist, "kataphysician" and DJ, Lendl Barcelos explores vibratory matter, often in the aural dimension, even when it occurs beyond normative human limits. Alongside Tarek Atoui, Allison O'Daniel, Myriam Lefkowitz & Valentina Desideri, was part of the Council's Infinite Ear project, based on the premise that deafness constitutes a specialisation in sound. With work presented at Biennale Architettura XVIII (Venice), Centrocentro (Madrid), Garage (Moscow), Inkonskt (Malmo), Q-O₂ (Brussels), Pedreira (Porto), and he has texts published by Urbanomic, re:press, MIT and Norient.

Batalha Centro de Cinema

Praça da Batalha, 47
4000-101 Porto

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