In Search of Frankenstein — Mary Shelley’s Nightmare is a book work by Chloe Dewe Mathews, which was conceived during her 2016 residency at the Verbier 3D Foundation in the Val de Bagnes, Switzerland. It is well known that Mary Shelley began to write the novel Frankenstein 75km away, on the shores of Lake Geneva; it is a less familiar story that she and her companions were deprived of the usual summertime pursuits because it was 1816, the ‘Year Without Summer’. The eruption of the Mount Tambora volcano on an Indonesian Island the previous year had sent ash into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight over large parts of the globe, bringing low temperatures, crop failure and severe food shortages. A further consequence was the Débacle du Giétroz two years later, when a swollen glacier dyke collapsed under the pressure of many millions of cubic metres of water. The water flooded into the Val de Bagnes, killing 44 people and ran all the way to Lake Geneva.
Mary Shelley’s monster – an extended account of a nightmare – was a human creation that destroyed its unloving creator, an echo we see in recent climactic disasters, demonstrating our continuing impact on the environment. Dewe Mathews’ book uses the sublime snowy expanses Shelley encountered as she traveled through Switzerland to draw parallels between the themes in Frankenstein and the environmental issues of our time. The artist went in search of the glacial landscapes that inspired Shelley’s creation but instead found a different form of human folly: a grey mass of melting ice. Dewe Mathews also investigated a series of bunkers with passages running for many miles tunnelled in the mountains around Verbier and Geneva, constructed in the 1960s as shelter from potential nuclear fallout. It is a cold, featureless and dreadful setting, even though it was designed as a refuge. ‘In Search of Frankenstein — Mary Shelley’s Nightmare’ interweaves reproductions of the ‘Geneva Notebook’ – the first half of Shelley’s original manuscript – with photographs of the Alpine landscape above and below ground today. Where is the monster to be found?
A selection of photographs in this publication are included in the exhibition ‘In Search of Frankenstein’ at the British Library in London to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication.
Texts in English by Chloe Dewe Mathews, Paul Goodwin, Alexa Jeanne Kusber, and Kiki Thompson.
Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982 London) lives and works in St Leonards-on-Sea, England. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at Tate Modern, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and Museum Folkwang. Public and private collections have acquired her work, such as the British Council Art Collection, the Irish State Art Collection and the National Library of Wales. Dewe Mathews has been awarded the British Journal of Photography International Photography Award, the Royal Photographic Society Vic Odden Award and the Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.