The Contemporary Art of the Nature Morte in the Age of Artificial Life Forms: The Metafictional Illusion of Life in Installation Art and Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein

  • Audrey Chan The University of Edinburgh


Observing the artistic response to the illusional nature of artificial life forms in the field of installation art, contemporary writers often allude to conceptual artworks through ekphrastic means to “grasp the texture of the contemporary real” (Virilio 4) in a technologically “transformative moment” (Boxall 4). A “reality hunger” for the contemporary brings together a “burgeoning group of interrelated […] artists in a multitude of forms of media” (Shields 3) to experiment new forms across disciplines through ekphrasis, which “strikes to explode” the “stuffed package” of a culture “containable with its shaped word” (Krieger 233). In her essay “Art Objects” (1995), Jeanette Winterson shows her interest in contemporary conceptual art as she writes that “the true artist is interested in the art object as an art process” and establishing a connection to the future instead of being interested in the final product (12). Her definition of art coincides with that of conceptual art as it seeks to analyse “the ideas underlying the creation and reception of art” (Shanken 433), and thus takes on the framework of the meta-critical process from conceptual art with “the use of scientific concepts and technological media both to question their prescribed applications and to create new aesthetic models” (Shanken 434). Deriving from the artistic landscape of conceptual installation art and its interactions with science, Winterson borrows the subject of the nature morte and the metafictional framework to address the clashes between artificial life forms and the human civilisation by alluding to artworks such as those of Damien Hirst in her novel Frankissstein (2019) when writing about cryonic bodies: “It’s a little like an art installation in here isn’t it? Have you seen Damien Hirst’s pickled shark in a tank?” (106). Based on the interdisciplinary interrelations between installation art and contemporary literature, this paper will read the dialogue between Winterson’s ekphrastic subject of the nature morte in Frankissstein and contemporary installation art, including works of Hirst, Cai Guo-Qiang, and Guillaume Paris, as a response to the rise of artificial life forms with respect to their metafictional and illusional nature as AI will become “fully self-designing” (Winterson 73).

Author Biography

Audrey Chan, The University of Edinburgh

Audrey Chan is a postgraduate student completing MSc Literature and Modernity: 1900 to the Present at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interest lies in the interdisciplinary studies between contemporary literature and the visual arts. She also received a bachelor’s degree of arts from City University of Hong Kong’s Department of English and is now a reader for fiction at UoE’s James Tait Black Prize. She has recently presented her paper “Alberto Breccia’s Parody of Futurist Paintings in Modern Bande Dessinée: Resisting Transatlantic Fascism” at the conference Transitions 9, and her flash paper “Haruki Murakami’s Rhizomatic Underground: Traumatic Memory and New Journalism” at Contemporary Studies Network’s conference. Her book review of Matthew LeVay’s Violent Minds: Modernism and the Criminal (2019) will also be published in the journal Crime Fiction Studies.

How to Cite
Chan, Audrey. 2021. “The Contemporary Art of the Nature Morte in the Age of Artificial Life Forms: The Metafictional Illusion of Life in Installation Art and Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein”. FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & The Arts, no. 32 (October).