Conceiving Ada | Chicago Reader

Conceiving Ada

Sort of a cross between Tron and Orlando, this 1997 first feature by video and installation artist Lynn Hershman Leeson is lively in spots but periodically becomes an unintentional hoot. A computer programmer and genetic memory expert (Francesca Faridany) “accesses” the revolutionary Ada Byron King (who else but Tilda Swinton?), seeing and conversing with Lord Byron?s only daughter, who?s allegedly “the inventor of the first computer language” and proves to be her sister under the skin. Lo and behold, we discover that the 19th century, represented by “virtual sets,” looks and sounds exactly like badly acted episodes of Masterpiece Theatre. Leeson obviously doesn't have a clue how silly and naive this sometimes seems; in her gushy enthusiasm she inadvertently parodies both feminist rhetoric and the idealist fetishizing of cyberspace. Timothy Leary, only days before his death, makes a cameo appearance as the heroine's mentor, and Karen Black plays her mother; Swinton does what she can with the idealized Ada.

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