To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novella “Frankenstein," or the Modern Prometheus,” in 2018, Hyeseung Marriage-Song created a body of work inspired by contemporary retellings of the age-old myth of the golem. She created large-scale paintings and monoprints, harnessing the power of the creative spirit of several artists and leading figures in the art world, including Vin Ganapathy, Chris Rubino and MIchael Gormley.
Some Further Background
Though mainstream culture is seeped in the Frankenstein tale, it is often forgotten that Frankenstein was the not the name of the monster, but the scientist who made him. Mary Shelley’s tale was an imaginative spin on the myth of the golem which has been brought to us by many cultures— perhaps most memorably by the ancient Greeks, with their Titan Prometheus, as well as by Jewish folklore. In that tradition, an anthropomorphic being— a golem— was fashioned of “raw” material, often clay, and imbued with some autonomy and human agency. In many of the stories, the impetus to create the golem was to aid the Jewish people in a moment of crisis, but after it is found ultimately uncontrollable, the being must finally be destroyed (returned to dust). Present through all these tales is the theme of hubris— humans’ hubris: having made an ersatz copy of themselves, to think mistakenly the one who is formed can be contained and controlled.
Marriage-Song’s contemporary updating of the golem myth seizes also on the theme of creativity and the idea of light and darkness in all humans. We know that Viktor Frankenstein is driven to create something out of nothing; at base, then, he is an artist, for that is the artist’s life— to form out of the raw what must ultimately go out in the world, interact with others and thus makes a life of its own. As for Frankenstein’s monster, he wants a partner created for himself— so he, too, in that way possesses the creative impulse. Though Boris Karloff’s interpretation of the monster is striking and lives still fresh in our minds, Marriage-Song in this project wanted to convey an image of the golem as beautiful, complex, intelligent— and perhaps tattooed, a modern play on the suturing together of the cemetery cadavers that Shelley’s scientist-artist was driven to.
These paintings were not made as direct illustrations of any variations on the myth. They are, instead, psychological and philosophical meditations of those texts and the golem mythology. Characters are portrayed psychologically, with the action of the story reflected in the visual idiom of unsettled and fractured forms, swirling circularity, brushwork that is at times resolved and at others broken. The manipulations of art convention serves Marriage-Song’s vision that every generation creates copies of themselves which are let loose upon the world, and then those, inevitably becoming artist-makers themselves, create again, and so on and so forth, thereby making us all a little bit monster, a little bit artist.
Who knows, and cares, which generation we are in this iterative process.