In Search of Frankenstein explores the environmental and social issues of our time through the themes of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, written in 1816 on the shores of Lake Geneva, which is where I visited. I did an artist residency in 2015 with an organisation called the 3D Foundation in Verbier, and I used that time to research Mary Shelley, ‘The Year Without Summer’, and the landscapes which she occupied at that time.
1816 was known as The Year Without Summer. Terrible weather conditions were caused by a volcanic eruption on the other side of the world. Part of the problem with photographing the Swiss Alps is they are so picturesque and they look kind of ‘chocolate box-y’, but suddenly this different weather system came in and kind of echoed ‘The Year Without Summer’, this time in 1816 when there were such terrible weather conditions that Mary Shelly was kept indoors day after day and ended up writing Frankenstein.
It’s now 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote her novel Frankenstein which has had this extraordinary impact centuries later, so it’s a great moment to look back at that original text, but also see how many of those themes are still so relevant to us today.
In this series of work I’ve chosen to focus on two kinds of landscapes, the external, very blown out, over-exposed photographs of the Alpine glaciers and slopes and mountains in Switzerland and France, [which are] then also put alongside the nuclear bunkers. There’s an extraordinary network of nuclear bunkers throughout Switzerland that was built in the 1960s to accommodate the whole population in case of nuclear disaster. I was really drawn to those spaces, almost as the nuclear bomb being the epitome, or the perfect symbol I should say, of Frankenstein’s monster: this extraordinary power, this creation that has been made by scientists that has the ability to destroy us all in an instant. So I wanted to put those two environments next door to one another with that overarching title In Search of Frankenstein to allow people to think about these beasts, these things that we have created and their effect on the landscape around us.
Having made the body of photographic work out in Switzerland, I came back to London and was really keen to see the actual manuscripts where the book had come from, where now 200 years later all these extraordinary different films, books, comics, endless theatre productions have been made from this book. I really wanted to go to the root of it and see the actual manuscript itself that had been written out in Geneva in 1816. So I contacted the Bodleian Library who have the copy of the book. It was interesting in a sense that it was quite a different environment than I expected, however there was still this amazing vibrancy and this amazing energy that I felt from the pages because you could see this quite quick script and, you know, the knowledge – these crossings out and changes and then you get Percy Shelley, her soon to be husband’s texts and thoughts in the margins… and the excitement to look at something that’s 200 years old that was written by an 18 year-old girl and think of what the effect, the influence, has been since then, it’s extraordinary.
Artist Chloe Dewe Mathews discusses her work and the exhibition In Search of Frankenstein at Impressions Gallery.
Discover more resources and information about the exhibition here:
Chloe Dewe Mathews: In Search of Frankenstein
Directed and produced by New Focus, Impressions Gallery’s young people’s collective, 2019.