Still (A)Life

Sweat. Lust. Passion & Desire.

She is strolling through the halls at night,
Floating in a translucid dream.
She hears a voice in radiant light,
Never awakening from her translucid dream.

Still (A)Life - Denise Hirtenfelder
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The work „Still (A)Life“ deals with the concept of fictional creatures in relation to a socio-political event. Denise Hirtenfelder found the inspiration for her creature “Petrus the Fetus” back in the history of human body part preservation. The story of Petrus is based on groundbreaking methods of anatomical preservation and the creation of a carefully arranged scenery of human body parts by the Dutch botanist and anatomist Frederik Ruysch. As a kind of “artist of the death” he made remarkable still lives that display blurred boundaries between the demonstrative element of scientific preservation and the symbolic element of vanitas art. His macabre content of art, that shows limbs, fetuses, and small animals in glasses, is decorated with beads, fishes, shells, artificial flowers and lacy garments. His specimen, showcased in cabinets of curiosities, survived more than three decades.


In addition, “Still (A)Life” refers to the history of the “Narrenturm” (Fool’s Tower) in Vienna. It counts as continental Europe's oldest building for the accommodation of psychiatric patients and was constructed in 1784 by Isidore Canevale under Emperor Joseph II. The construction of the Narrenturm points to a new attitude towards the mentally ill. Today it functions as the Federal Pathologic-Anatomical Museum of the city of Vienna, displaying a great collection of human body part preservations that led to new scientific input in the course of the last centuries.


In the story of “Still (A)Life” Petrus is a three-hundred-year-old fetus preserved by Frederik Ruysch in a glass jar. Back in the days when he was still meant to be growing to become a functioning human being, his parents expected him to be full of life and full of big plans for humanity. Instead of making their dreams come true, Petrus died in his mother´s womb as a fetus and later on became a part of the pathologic-anatomical collection in Vienna´s Fool’s Tower. Decades later Veronica has recently started working in the Fool’s Tower as a museum supervisor. She herself is an outsider of society and is just doing “her job” at the museum, which entails opening and closing the doors for visitors in the morning and at night. What nobody knows – Veronica is haunted by voices when she takes her lonely nocturnal routine walk before closing the museum. In her translucid dreams the human body part preservations come to life again and start having a party. In the course of working in her new job Veronica establishes a particular fascination with Petrus – the three-hundred-year-old fetus. Inside the rooms of madness Veronica develops a fervid delusion of the whole cabinet of curiosity and of Petrus the fetus. She feels unbearable emotions of passion, desire and lust for the dead little body that speaks to her like a celestial adult man sent by Jesus as his disciple. Every night she is sucked in into a merry-go-round inside the specimen´s jar, just to be released from it at dawn.


“Still (A)Life” is set in an in-between world of history, science, society and hidden longings in fiction. In her style of writing Hirtenfelder feels inspired by Elfriede Jelinek’s language and her relation to the working-class society. She points out how easily conceptual creatures and “monsters” can be connected to human beings.

Petrus the Fetus & eyeballs: Fimo-Clay
Still (A)Life Photography
Still (A)Life Text & Sound

 © 2018 by Denise Hirtenfelder

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