FRANKENSTEIN 2018, The Liverpool & Knowsley Book Art Exhibition
Words and photographs by Moira Leonard
Frankenstein 2018 is a completely wonderful, delicate, beautiful exhibition, housed in my favourite building in the whole of Liverpool: Central Library. Passing through the breath taking Picton Reading Room on the first floor, with its ornate circular, polished wood balustrades and exquisite leather-bound books. It is monumental, awe inspiring and reverential before you even get to the exhibition in the Hornby Library which peels off intricately to the left.
As you enter Hornby Library you are in an equally stunning space, where laid out before you are several vintage glass cabinets displaying a collection of detailed explorations of the book Frankenstein by Mary Shelly which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. A classic story of a misguided professor (Victor Frankenstein) who assembles carefully selected pieces of dead human bodies to create a living being (Frankenstein’s Monster) only to abandon him at the moment of birth because he is so ‘abhorrent’ and goes against all the laws of nature.
The creation of this creature and his subsequent rejection allows Shelly to explore many themes around what it means to be alive, and this exhibition teases out many of these in minute detail. Some of the works will trigger very raw, emotional responses, while others will make you question life in general, like: Who could abandon a child; Is it love that creates a fully functioning living being; and does the lack of love ultimately lead to human destruction?
Helen Scalway’s work looks at the latter as she says ‘Frankenstein’s monster is doomed by his maker and everyone else to wander through icy terrains. The snowy weather in Shelley’s novel reflect the frozen treatment which the monster encounters in his life’. In ‘I am a Monster and I know my place’ she tries to evoke the monsters point of view ‘enticed by a glowing window, he will eventually reach the house shown through the snowy branches…but once there, he will experience only the rejection which finally distorts his nature’. Just heart-breaking.
Wendy Williams ‘Notes on Nature’ portrays ‘the Monster’ as a ‘lover of nature, sensitive and curious’, something that Shelly hinted at in her original manuscript. Again, a very emotional angle to explore and one that really does make you want to reach into the display box and leaf through it.
Linda Parr uses the incredibly destructive power of words in her work ‘insulting epitaphs’ highlighting the brutish adjectives used in Shelly’s book. In another simply called ‘colour in Frankenstein’ she creates a hand sewn hardback book and describes it as having ‘61 pages, a page for each word of colour, and the end pages list the colours used within the novel’.
Alastair Noble focusses on a more macabre angle, that of teeth, referencing Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘Bernice’, exploring the obsessional fanaticism that it would have taken to create the monster in the first place.
Finally, Alison Stockmarr’s reimagined cover for Frankenstein makes me stop in my tracks…it is both beautifully gothic and deeply disturbing. There are so many artworks I could go on to talk about, each of them having something to say in a very thoughtful and thought-provoking way but I would spoil it for you. Go and see it.
Overall this is a small but perfectly formed exhibition. It could not be set in a more perfect environment and I cannot recommend it enough.
Currently showing at Central Library, Liverpool 14 May – 9 August 2018 then at Kirkby Gallery, Knowsley 17 September 2018 – 26 January 2019