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A whip-cracking Christmas at Tate Britain | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews

A whip-cracking Christmas at Tate Britain

Giorgio Sadotti 'celebrates the power of nothing' with his unadorned Norwegian Spruce
Giorgio Sadotti 'celebrates the power of nothing' with his unadorned Norwegian Spruce

It’s the time of year when Tate Britain unveils its much-anticipated, artist-designed Christmas tree. Over the years, we’ve had Fiona Banner decorating hers with unpainted Airfix models of fighter planes, while Sarah Lucas hung hers with stuffed tights instead of baubles. Tacita Dean vied between tradition and Minimalism with a simple arrangement of beeswax candles, while both Mark Wallinger and Julian Opie decided to forego the fir tree altogether: Wallinger opted for a bare, spindly aspen decked with mass-produced Catholic rosary beads, while, true to his cartoon/Ikea aesthetic, Opie’s contribution was a fake forest of painted trees made of intersecting planes of wood.

This year it’s the turn of a conceptual artist whose practice “celebrates the power of nothing”. Giorgio Sadotti is perhaps best known for a 1999 work entitled Went to America Didn't Say a Word. This involved flying to New York, staying overnight in a hotel and then flying back to London, all without saying a word for the duration of his stay. During his waking moments, a mini disc recorded his movements and interactions.

Wanting his Norwegian Spruce - in a work sibilantly entitled Flower Ssnake - to "maintain its dignity and timeless grace", Sadotti has decided to present his Tate Britain tree in all its naked, natural glory, completely unadorned. But that's not all. Tucked discreetly underneath the tree, which is installed in the gallery's Neo-Classical Rotunda, you'll find a coiled bullwhip, waiting to be used: on the twelfth night of Christmas the tree will be animated in a one-off performance that will see the spirit of the season robustly whipped out of it, an energetic perfomance for which free tickets can be obtained at Tate Britain's member's desk.

Whether it will be yelping in pain, as well as attempting to dodge the brutal lashes, remains to be seen, though one imagines its "dignity" might just be a little undermined.

  • Flower Ssnake unveiled at Tate Britain on December 11, until 5 January, 2011
  • Flower Ssnake performance on 5 January

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