Gestures and Rituals of the Dark and the Natural: Tate’s Christmas Trees by Artists

Posted: December 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

Beginning in 1988 and continuing to the present day the Tate has commissioned a leading contemporary artist to design its Christmas Tree which takes up residence in the Museums Rotunda of the Tate Britain.  Knowing a good thing when they see it (or decorate it) from 1991 the Museum has asked the same artist to develop an official Christmas card for them.  You can take a look at the history of this seasonal art project here with information about what the artist choose, with assorted pictures and general reactions to the piece.

Yinka Shonibare Tate Christmas Tree 2001

Yinka Shonibare, in 2001, approached the Christmas tree by wrapping a total of102 branches in batik. Using Iron for the truck and base, it sits on a pattern of roots which spread from the tree in a organic mass reflecting the hidden natural and historical nature of the gesture of the Christmas tree.  A light inserted into the ironwork of the truck escapes through holes perforating the entire length of the tree. Shonibare’s tree is seeking to integrate his own national identity with the common practice of the Christmas tree.

David Hume Tate chistmas tree 2005

Gary Hume’s Christmas tree for 2005, was a traditional Nordmania spruce on which he placed decorations of hand created blackbirds stencil sliced from steel.    Hume took the blackbird as a symbol of the season being one of the few birds which do not migrate in the winter but instead remains within Britain and is found dispersed throughout the country.  Hume also notes it is related to the holiday by the famous song the “Twelve Days of Christmas”.  As He notes, “The line ‘four calling birds,’ refers to blackbirds and may derive from the more traditional wording, ‘four colly birds’, since ‘colly’ means black and refers to the soot of coal.”

David Hume Christmas Card Tate 2005 "Baby bird"

This years tree is done by Giorgio Sadott.

Flower Ssnake 2010 Giorgio Sadotti, Tate Christmas Tree

Here is a short section from an interview with Sadott about his own personal relationship to idea of the Christmas tree (and what he thinks of the other attempts at it) from AnotherMag (read the entire interview there):

What’s the concept behind Flower Ssnake?
The concept is to show objects that have potential and embrace the idea and the power behind not doing; resisting the compulsion to always do the same thing, in this instance dress the tree. Here, the tree and the whip have potential as they are not fully realised yet so for me they are very optimistic. The title of the work is a way of asking the viewer to imagine the situation to be slightly different to what it actually is — the combined objects are a tree and a whip, but it’s a relatively simple step to jump to seeing a flower and a snake, especially once the potential of the whip is realised at the performance on the twelfth night.

Why did you move away from the decorative nature of Christmas in favour of a much more organic and simple tree?
To show the inherent beauty in the simple, the understated and natural. To embrace the power and beauty of nature. Although the tree is out of its natural surroundings, it can be handled with sensitivity and understanding, retaining some of its true character. For me, not draping it with tinsel was allowing this character to remain.

Did you have any influences behind the idea? Was there anything that inherently inspired you to produce this creation?
I am influenced by everything. I have always been more interested in the things between things, rather than the things themselves. I view this tree as being between its natural forest location and with potential to be dressed becoming a traditional Christmas tree.

Fiona Banner Creating her Christmas Tree 2007 Peace on Earth

    • hapstance says:

      You are definitely welcome. I would guess you like the Tate program?
      It is assuredly more interesting then it would seem at first glance as the artists ideas, and how they explain it, change our approach to the tree.
      Makes me wish I could alter my own tree every year, with a coinciding theme.

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