Building a New Frankenstein: 'Igor has thrown the switch'

Marty St James, Steven Adams

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Abstract "Igor has thrown the switch. Frankenstein has sat up on the table" David Ropeik, Scientist brings back artificial life and our fear of Frankenstein.  This project sets out to celebrate Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for the bicentenary of its publication in 1818. The research project is based around the subject of portraiture, science, technology and the construction of the human figure inspired by Victor Frankenstein's creation in Shelley's eponymous novel [1]. Back in 1818 the story fantasized that it was possible to breathe life into human fragments by physically stitching them together. Two hundred year later the technologies have changed, but science's capacity to rethink what it is to be human remains. This project explores ways in which we might start to re-imagine Mary Shelley's concerns from a 21st century perspective. The subject is relevant to all our concerns. A creative, celebratory 'LIVING' exploration into how new media is impacting on the representation of the human form What might exercise the creative imagination of Shelley if she were with us now? For our project, there are a number of strands. The first looks at the capacity of contemporary digital portraiture to expand our way of thinking about the way we see others and ourselves. This we explore using a number of urban screen-based installations enabling us to form an ever-changing real-time generic human image from fragments collected from uploaded 'selfies' collected from social media. Through the development of an app, a generic, globalised human form appears and with it a range of global, social, ethical and cultural concerns. The end results might well be the embodiment of the blending of human characteristics of today and the future. As individuals contribute their own fragments to the project, so the changeling grows. Other questions soon arise. How might series of morphing images, or as a set of geographically tagged data? So much of our visual impression of Frankenstein's 'Monster' is shaped by Hollywood films, in particular Boris Karloff's Frankenstein of 1935. In this return to Mary Shelley's novel, we look at the new composite form and with it a host of cultural and ethical concerns about who we are, how we represent ourselves and not least, how modern science might now undertake Frankenstein's project. There is more to the new Frankenstein than meets the eye.  Portraiture for the 21st Century? The project is built on and extends Professor Marty St James' longstanding interest in new forms of portraiture using the moving image, photography and drawn images. This is evidenced in Marty's eleven-channel video installation The Swimmer, at London's National Portrait Gallery collection and Adagio No.8 shown recently in Taiwan and Dubai, and in his other video portrait works. The project also enables the development of technologies that enable us to collect portrait images using an App. Using popular social media, the App will allow users to take images of set body parts - head, foot, leg, hand etc. Thereafter a template is given in which parts are uploaded to add to the emerging Creatures' appearance.  The project is grounded in a three-way research link up between three centres of expertise. University of Hertfordshire who will be managing and overseeing the project; Ravensbourne College of Art (London) will be researching into the necessary applications needed to collect images of body parts and reconstruct them in real time via an new app. The Streaming Museum in New York City will be overseeing the presentation and distribution of the newly created image via a network of public screens allowing worldwide distribution to a global audience. We aim develop this project over the next three years. 1. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus (Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, 1818)
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2016
EventISEA(2016) - Hong Kong University (any other locations), Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Duration: 16 May 201622 May 2016


Country/TerritoryHong Kong
CityHong Kong


  • Digital Art
  • Art
  • Portraiture
  • Social media
  • Interaction
  • Streaming
  • Urban screens


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