From analysis of DNA to emotional sentiments, the contemporary artists in Speculative Portraits draw from scientific research and technology to expand on ideas of portraiture, identity and human presence. Spanning digital animation to sculpture, the presentation brings together select loans and works from the SFMOMA media arts collection by Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Rhonda Holberton, Mika Tajima and Gail Wight.
A key point of departure for the exhibition and a major acquisition, Lynn Hershman Leeson’s installation Room #8 (2006–18) is a culmination of the artist’s investigation into the biological nature of identity. Through a laboratory door window, a mirror box presents two vials, one featuring a custom LYNN HERSHMAN antibody and the other the artist’s works encoded in synthetic DNA. This exhibition also marks the 20th anniversary of SFMOMA’s launch of Hershman Leeson’s SFMOMA web project commission Agent Ruby (1998–2002, agentruby.sfmoma.org), which invites users to chat with a virtual AI character.