It’s that time of year again, when a saccharine schmaltz descends in snowy suffocating blanket over us; Christmas is the most profitable time of year for many retailers and commerce, when persistent inane joy wrapped in sprinklings of jagged plastic and shiny film clutters our daily vision on the high street, on television, our insides in the form of seasonal sandwiches (50 Shades of Cranberry); and when the fudge-like warmth of seasonal pop songs muffle the sound of the continuing splurge of royalties tumbling festively into Noddy Holder’s sable lined purse next to the Werther’s Originals. But before you rebuff me indignantly with ‘Bah, Humbug!’, there is one sector of modern life which is blissfully devoid of this weird, curious bastardisation of what was originally a religious festival that has now become an excess-fest in retail ejaculation. For all its peculiar customs and values, the contemporary art world continues to exist in its own parallel universe in completely ignoring the festive season: the visual language that now characterises our modern experience of Christmas as dictated by marketeers everywhere is excluded proudly from its club.
This is no bad thing; for art and Christmas for centuries have been closely intertwined, from the religious icons and paintings making visible the mystical miracle of the nativity to imagery-starved peasants, to the moralising impressively decorative Christian works of the Pre-Raphaelites. It is an indication of how irrelevant the original meaning of Christmas has become that art now no longer plays a role in its dissemination to the masses; the Christmas visual language is now the visual signifier of something that can be purchased. The closest visual creation we have that comes close to the discipline of ‘art’ for Christmas are the constructions in Selfridges windows, themselves amazing feats of technical virtuosity and imagination. All geared towards spending.
But what, then, would constitute Christmas art were contemporary artists to turn their hands to depicting an insightful and critical response to today’s seasonal society? The Guardian has recently featured Christmas card gifs by artists which provide a suitably snappy and digital greeting; Jake and Dinos’s contribution flashes traditional kitsch images interspersed with the usual Ku Klux Klan imagery, with a message that probably is more an indication of their own brand of humour rather than a commentary on Christmas itself. At a stupidly trendy Dover St eatery recently I noticed the festive firs and berries adorning a fireplace right under a Tracey Emin neon non-statement, interestingly enough actually improving the work, and indeed neon does seem the perfect medium for would be Christmas art – relevant both to contemporary art and to the kitsch crude santas adorning semi-detached houses in rural wherever. What I imagine however as a more relevant critical comment on today’s world, is the unforgettable images of shoppers wrestling over a monolith television on Black Friday, rendered Géricault style as a parallel to the Raft of the Medusa: desperate humans destroying each other on an island of nothingness.
Happy Christmas from ArtBytch