Frankenstein's Birthday Party...
is a group show i’ve curated… an homage to the novel and meditation on its continuing relevance.
here’s my curatorial statement:
2018 is the bicentennial of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Why does a 200-year-old ghost story continue to feel so relevant? It’s important to remember that the Frankenstein of Hollywood and pop culture – Boris Karloff, The Munsters or Rocky Horror Picture Show – is quite different from the novel. Beyond the fact that the tale has captured popular imagination, the novel’s lasting impact is grounded in the fact that it is a parable about human nature. And the most important question it asks is who is the real monster?
The exhibition begins, as it must, with contemporary artists looking at the body and our attempts to conquer death; advances in science and technology; the animation of objects or machines and artificial intelligence. Thence comes an examination of ambition that outstrips the ability to understand or control what we’ve created and finally, what happens when we don’t take responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
Central to both the novel and the curatorial stance of this exhibition is the failure to feel empathy for the ostensibly unlovable — the other. Who is to blame for the rage born of feelings of rejection and how do we expect that anger to play out in society?
and a quick virtual tour of the show…
Edmund Clark (born 1963) Autopsy Table, Naval Base Mortuary, Guantanamo, 2009 chromogenic print
48 1/8 x 59 7/8 inches
while calling to mind the slab where victor frankenstein made his creature, this photograph was taken in the morgue of the guantanamo bay detention camp — the u.s. military prison in cuba established by the george w. bush administration as part of the “war on terror.” ostensibly created to detain extraordinarily dangerous people, interrogate them in an optimal setting, and to prosecute them for war crimes, in practice it has been used for the indefinite detention of prisoners who have been denied due process of law. the bush administration asserted that detainees were neither entitled to the protections of the geneva convention nor the u.s. constitution.
during the obama administration, the number of inmates was reduced from 245 to 41 with most former detainees freed or transferred. in january 2018, donald trump signed an executive order to keep the prison camp open indefinitely.
guantanamo is emblematic of human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of the fight against terrorism. this exhibition explores the idea that monsters can take many forms.
Janine Antoni (born 1964) to return, 2015 polyurethane resin 37 x 17 x 17 inches
to return is composed of a human coccyx resting on a wooden stool: our vestigial tail sitting in an erstwhile tree. a reminder of whence we’ve come. antoni asks, is there something perverse about “civilization”? is it the animal inside us or our separation from our true nature that makes us monstrous?
i’d ask, all this evolution… but how far have we actually gotten? are we less or more monstrous than monkeys?
Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010) Remembering, 1999 pink fabric, wood, glass vitrine
Rina Banerjee (born 1963) if lotion and potion could heal–for certain her oils… one place and one face, 2006
ink, acrylic, collage on paper 38 3/8 x 49 3/4 inches
Rina Banerjee Native, migrant naturally, 2018 vintage silk wedding sari with gold thread brocade, vintage brass claw furniture cap, steel, copper leaf, copper nails, wood, silk, cotton, sequins, gourd, polyester threads, wax, cowry shells, Victorian doll, eyelashes, silk trim, pheasant feathers 26 x 13 x 24 inches
banerjee’s sculptures drawings (and even titles) incorporate disparate elements that cross cultural and chronological delineations, combining exotic antiques and cheap trinkets. In her works on paper, female figures float in states of transmogrification, unmoored but also unbound. her hybrid creatures reflect a question running throughout this exhibition — who or what defines something as either beautiful or monstrous?
John O’Reilly Mused 2.09.91, 1991 polaroid montage 3 3/4 x 12 3/4 inches
John O’Reilly (born 1930) To Patrick (1975-1997) #16, 1998 polaroid montage 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 inches
Tim Hawkinson (born 1960) Torso, 2018 shopping bags, urethane foam 20 x 12 x 8 inches
hawkinson’s creation is both an example of an artist giving life to the inanimate and a reminder of the mountains of garbage produced in our mindlessly consuming culture.
Patricia Piccinini (born 1965) Egg/Head, 2016 silicone, human hair 17 3/4 x 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches
a thread running through the show is the exploration of the terrain where the animate and inanimate co-mingle. as bio-tech and AI advance, at what point will their boundaries become indistinguishable?
Alan Rath Eyeris IX, 2017 birch plywood, acrylic, polyethylene, aluminum, custom electronics, LCDs 87 x 60 x 10 inches
Tim Hawkinson Pink Bike, 2010 inkjet prints, shopping bags and urethane foam on panel 52 x 41 inches
Patricia Piccinini The Struggle, 2017 fiberglass, auto paint, leather, steel, scooter parts 78 3/4 x 94 1/2 x 47 1/4 inches
this piece speaks to the potential of artificial intelligence and the imminent possibility of technology becoming self-sufficient and self-perpetuating. in a reference to the george stubbs painting horse attacked by a lion (1769), piccinini represents a vespa and motorcycle as sentient beings — a wild deer and a lion — engaged in a death-struggle. piccinini asks us to envision the possibility of machines having life cycles… leading to the both unnerving, and — given modern advances — quite conceivable, possibility of a world in which technology, like nature, is not within our control.
Janine Antoni to twine, 2015 polyurethane resin 18 x 48 1/2 x 72 inches
to twine is a piece about profound human connection…the desire for which is frankenstein’s creature’s primary motivation. but this piece also relates to the interpretation of the novel that victor frankenstein and his monster are in fact alter egos…two separate beings inexorably intertwined.
John O’Reilly Double in Marble, 1988 polaroid montage 3 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches
Patricia Piccinini The Comforter, 2010 silicone, fiberglass, steel, fox fur, human hair, clothing 23 5/8 x 31 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches
a girl with the rare but naturally occurring genetic mutation that produces an abnormal growth of hair on her body holds a chimera composed of a cow’s udder with the lips, chin and toes of a human baby. the chimera comes from the artist’s imaginings, triggered by news stories of scientists attempting to genetically modify milk cows so they’ll tolerate the pain and stress they experience in industrial dairies.
which element of the sculpture is more disturbing?
piccinini frequently asks, how do we respond to aberration – with aversion or compassion? and with the comforter, she also asks us to consider — as does frankestein’s creation — the life of the outcast.
Julian Charrière (born 1987) An Invitation to Disappear – Sorong, 2018 pigment print 59 1/8 x 73 7/8 inches
taken during a rave in an oil palm plantation on sumbawa in Indonesia, the photographs from this project explore the exploitation of some of the most diverse rainforest ecology in the world – through logging, burning, mono-cropping and soil depletion.
in 1815, a volcano on this very island erupted, spewing an ash cloud that lowered global temperatures and caused the “year without summer.” that climate event is credited with spawning mary shelley’s masterpiece, frankenstein. today, global demand for palm oil fuels forest fires that burn annually during the dry season, blanketing a vast area of the asia pacific region in toxic haze and destroying an important carbon sink.
a dance party in the midst of an environmental disaster: we fiddle while rome burns.
Edmund Clark The Mountains of Majeed 5, 2014 chromogenic print 44 7/8 x 59 7/8 inches
this image was shot at bagram airfield, the largest base used by america to fight the taliban in its ‘operation enduring freedom’ in afghanistan. in this image, we look under the symbol of our country, past the ambulances used to transport american casualties, to the hindu kush range – the birthplace and stronghold of the islamic extremists.
from 1979 to 1989, the CIA armed and funded the militant islamic fighters known as mujahideen in an effort to undermine the USSR and its influence in central asia. it was one of the most expensive and protracted of the CIA’s covert operations, costing an estimated three billion dollars.
in 1989, when the militants drove the soviets from afghanistan, america withdrew its support, but left behind the well-trained and sophisticatedly armed force that would become the taliban. when, after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. declared war on afghanistan, it found itself fighting a monster of its own creation.
Bruce Conner (1933 – 2008) Bombhead, 2002/1989 pigment and acrylic on paper 38 3/8 x 31 1/8 inches
Cornelius Völker (born 1965) Heckler & Koch USP, 2014 oil on canvas 39 3/8 x 41 3/8 inches
there are 300 million guns in america – the top gun owning country in the world. 40% of americans own or live with a gun.
1 out of 3 households with children have a gun. 1.7 million children live with an unlocked, loaded gun.
in the u.s., the rate of murder or manslaughter by firearm is the highest in the developed world.
89 people die from gun violence every day: two-thirds of them are suicides.
987 people were shot and killed by police in 2017.
every day 47 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides / suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police interventions.
every day, 7 of those children die from gun violence and 40 are shot but survive.
there have been more than 90 mass shootings in america since 1982. what kind of society allows this to continue?
Michael Light 100 SUNS: 054 ERIE, 2003 pigment print mounted on aluminum, 12 1/4 x 16 inches
military personnel use their hands to shield themselves from a test explosion’s detonation flash. can you imagine anything more futile? more like the proverbial ostrich?
victor frankenstein’s primary crime was not the creation of a living entity from lifeless elements… but his failure to take responsibility for it. time and again he had opportunities to “parent,” to be empathetic, admit his culpability… to do the right thing. instead, he was paralyzed by guilt, fears of what people would think of him and his relentless whininess.
we live in a world of atomic weaponry, leaders who are thugs and bullies, plastic garbage patches three times the size of france, guns in the hands of attention-starved boys, climate change deniers, racism, poverty and people who’d build walls instead of helping those who are different.
shelley’s novel asks us to remember that it was the incapacity to take responsibility that destroyed frankenstein… his head-burying failure to act.
for justin manley’s insightful review on squarecylinder.com, click https://www.squarecylinder.com/2018/07/frankensteins-birthday-party-hosfelt/