Maya's monster

Artist Maya Attoun pays homage to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

A drawing by artist Maya Attoun (photo credit: MAYA ATTOUN)
A drawing by artist Maya Attoun
(photo credit: MAYA ATTOUN)
Drawn to themes that “harbor rich and widely annotated histories,” such as skulls, sinking ships, and ropes, it came as no surprise when contemporary artist, Maya Attoun, decided to place Mary Shelley’s gothic classic at the center of her latest project, called 2018.
Attoun’s deeply imaginative, yet frightfully true compilation of sketches serves as a hybrid (day planner, artistic object and graphic novel) to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein’s creation. In a 160-page planner, the artist weaves an entanglement of narratives that borrow from Shelley’s themes and themes of her own. Such an intricate project deserves further discussion with the creator herself.
Frankenstein has been adapted, theorized and written about prolifically. What inspired you to take on this “beast” of a project?
I have been preoccupied with Mary Shelley and Frankenstein for many years. I think it was always underneath the surface of my work. At first, I was more interested in Shelley’s life story and her circumstances for writing the book. In a way, I was avoiding Frankenstein, dealing with everything around it until it was finally time to confront it directly. I found it important to celebrate its 200th anniversary – to create a book for a book and focus on the relevance it possesses today.
Frankenstein was revolutionary in its theories on technology, galvanism, etc. What aspects of innovation do you feel Mary Shelley was onto 200 years ago?
I think that many of the greatest sci-fi stories deal more with the human condition in regard to innovation and technology. The monsters that we confront today are the blasting of digital and visual information, the condition of post-truth where true or false, important or marginal, lose their hierarchy. The book addresses the tension between “right” and “wrong” forms of knowledge; today we each create our own monster through information – monsters that can take on our identities.
Much like Dr. Frankenstein created his daemon, has this project become yours?
The process of working on the planner was very intense and it grew bigger than I had originally intended; I was not in complete control over the process and that is a good place to be. I think that we need to summon our demons and face our fears – even the most trivial ones – in order to grow and change.
Does your choice to bring a tangible, paper day-timer to life – something that is becoming more and more obsolete – reflect a yearning for the past?
I chose a paper day-timer because it asks questions regarding the condition of books and objects in our present day. Frankenstein was published on the first day of 1818 and I wanted to address this date by creating a book that starts exactly 200 years later.
My work doesn’t comes from nostalgia, yet I believe that in using anachronism, I can talk about the subject of time, of going 200 years back, of planning the future through the grid of a planner, and hopefully creating a small gap for the artwork to exist.
How about your choice of medium?
I use drawing as a thinking method, and in that sense it can be similar to Victor’s notebook or anatomical and research sketches. I also use drawing to dismantle and rebuild images, physically and metaphorically, because in the process of turning the photos that I took into drawings, the images disintegrate into technique. In this process, I can lose my faith in the image and then regain it.
The owner of each copy is meant to write over your existing drawings. Are you inviting them to rewrite history?
This work is about addressing the intimacy of the private realm. Writing in a journal creates a space for communication. I am very interested in how the original images can change through time as well as the dialogue between the user, the images and myself.
Is the narrative in these 160 pages one cohesive story?
I built the narratives in circles: the first relates to the time the book was created, so it reflects climate changes and volcanic eruptions, since I believe that monstrosity will come from tampering with the environment.
Another circle relates directly to the book through anatomical sketches or ships. Lastly, a more personal circle is partly based on my memories, my Instagram diary.
If this is an agenda for 2018, why are there 57 weeks?
The extra five weeks come from the month of November, the date the creator came to life. In this month, I decided to bring back the date to 1818, so this shift in time added extra weeks to the calendar.
Another thing that I did in November was use images from Mary and Percy Shelley’s memorabilia, such as a medallion of their lock of hair and a copy of Mary’s handwriting.
Can you pinpoint one drawing from the collection of which you are especially proud?
One of the drawings that I really love is #35. It depicts a back view of Mary Shelley’s portrait. I love this drawing because it is what I’m trying to do with my work, to look at Mary Shelley or Frankenstein from the back because we have seen the front excessively.
It’s also a self-portrait of sorts.
I want to know more about drawing #17.
The month of April is about Primavera and woman fertility. I feel womanhood and feminism are in the back of the mind in the book. The book is about man conceiving another man and changing the path of nature, but I do feel that the ghost in this book is the woman’s genitalia because it’s a woman who gave birth to this monstrosity.
What is it about Shelley that draws you into her world?
Shelley is a complete rebel, a strong woman in a man’s world. She received her education, she eloped, and she felt very comfortable in this world. There is something about her that is completely beyond time.
She created this modern icon, which still haunts our imagination and follows our popular culture.
In addition, her preoccupation with technology, time, gender, womanhood, parenthood and identity keeps luring me into her world. Shelley was up to date with the new movements of her time, like galvanism, enlightenment and technology. She addressed them with huge sensitivity and sensibility to the human condition. It seems like she never took anything for granted, but rather shaped everything into her own mold and I think that’s what made this book stand out.
Many people either overlook or are not aware that Mary Shelley wrote this literary treasure, not her husband. Do you feel a stronger connection to Mary as a female artist who also pushes the envelope in your own unique way?
Certainly, the fact that it’s a woman who wrote Frankenstein was a huge revelation to me at a young age. She is a very inspiring figure in my life.
If Mary Shelley were alive right now, what would you want to ask her? I guess I would really want to ask who or what the monster is... is it her? Or maybe this question is better left unanswered.
Purchase your copy of 2018 at the Givon Gallery in Tel Aviv or