“What was so frustrating earlier,” she says, “was that I could see these things happening, but no one else could. In a sense, culture caught up with the work.” That work took form in 1970s San Francisco, when the UC Berkeley Art Museum rejected an exhibition Leeson proposed on the grounds that it included sound, which they didn’t consider a legitimate art form at the time. Barred entry to the art establishment, Leeson took her practice to the public. To San Francisco’s Dante Hotel, in fact, where she booked a room and installed the world of her fictional character Roberta Breitmore, one that possessed both personal effects and paraphernalia used to identify individuals in the modern world: clothes, wigs, an analyst, a driver’s license, and bank accounts.
Leeson performed the role of the awkward, self-conscious Breitmore herself for two years as part of the four-year-long ephemeral artwork Roberta Breitmore (1974-8), donning a wig and glasses, attending part-time temp jobs, psychoanalysis sessions, or going shopping, before employing others to take shifts as the character. Visitors could check into Dante Hotel to view her artifacts (a credit card, letters from her psychiatrist), or they might catch a glimpse of her out in San Francisco perched on a bench or on her way to an appointment. Candid, paparazzi-style photos of her, with her head cast down, were captured by a photographer that she hired. All of this looked ahead, of course, to our mediated experience of identity and the voyeuristic deployment of technologies. Breitmore has become inseparable from the artist’s own narrative, and is the stuff of San Francisco lore, perhaps in part due to the artist’s incredible commitment to the piece.