When Life Imitates Art: Watchlist and the Impossible Pandemic

Alex Vickery-Howe, Lisa Harper Campbell, Sean Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Oscar Wilde (1891/1909) declared that it is not Art that imitates Life but Life that imitates Art. What happens when an artistic work, pitched as “soft sci-fi”, predicts something both decidedly unpleasurable and, later, alarmingly prophetic? Such is the case with Watchlist (2020), a new Australian theatrical work written prior to COVID19, which warns of impending environmental catastrophe and ends with the release of a zoonotic pathogen. The debut production in 2021 was performed amid the global reality of the continuing pandemic which rendered the play a prescient cultural artefact and complicated the audience reception of the work. This study expands from Wilde’s concept of counter-mimesis into the theoretical frameworks of Hans Robert Jauss (1982) and Susan Bennett (1997), who provide an alternative to author-centric, practice-led research while laying the blueprint for a dialectical exchange between Life and Art. The dialectical exchange is then explored in the genre of science fiction more broadly, including both literature and franchise filmmaking. Through this analysis, the authors break down the binary of Life and Art, building from Jauss and Bennett, to demonstrate the advantages of this alternative critical vocabulary.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2023


  • Speculative fiction
  • climate change
  • film franchise
  • science fiction
  • reception theory


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