MODERN ICONS: Pagan roots
When is a tree not a tree? When it's a 20ft phallus swathed in velvet
Tuesday 03 January 1995
With her Christmas tree at the Tate Gallery, Cathy de Monchaux seeks to re-open our eyes. In doing so she has had to subvert the tree's traditional festive appearance and reach the public by playing the media at their own game. "For the popular press in this country, contemporary art is a bloodsport," the artist says. Her approach seems to have been effective. "Tate presents the invisible Christmas tree", mocked one recent headline.
There is only one light on De Monchaux's tree, and it doesn't work. Her decoration involves encasing the branches in a huge piece of blue velvet, canvas side out. We have only the artist's word that beneath the swathe there is a tree at all. De Monchaux challenges our deep-seated perceptions of the homely Christmas tree and in so doing re-awakens lost symbolic memories.
The rich blue of the velvet, visible only in a few exposed "slashes", suggests the traditional colour of the Virgin's robe in Renaissance iconography. The slashes themselves, disclosing a textural sensuality, become almost vulval. This is part of the artist's intention. The tree for De Monchaux is "a 20ft-high phallic object", its wrapping an illustration of Mary's sexual independence. "I was using a pagan symbol to provoke ideas about the virgin birth," she says. Extending this metaphor, the small bronze clasps in the shape of hands, which pinch together the tree's velvet wrapping, emphasise the idea of angelic intercession. On another level, the wrapping might be taken to refer to the wrapping of Christ himself - in swaddling bands at birth ; in a shroud after his crucifixion.
In this powerful, sensual installation, De Monchaux serves to remind us that our own more conventional trees, their decorations and the gifts which surround them, are no mere festive gewgaws, but reminders of Christ's sacrifice and God's gift of his son.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Rashida Jones speaks out against male-centric porn saying 'women should have sex and feel good about it'
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
25 years of Disney: How Darth Vader, Iron Man, Elsa and Pixar's geniuses helped the company conquer the world (again)
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
King Abdullah dead: We can't afford not to hold Saudi Arabia's royals to account