Merry, Merry… Quite Contrary!, 2016, sculptural installation

“Merry, Merry… Quite Contrary!” – a sculptural installation by Julia Nitsberg is specifically designed for PII gallery located in the Old City of Philadelphia, the birthplace of the nation. The installation is a commentary on the world shaken by disasters and political instabilities generated by a twofold phenomenon: greed and power accumulation by the corporate few and the distress caused by armed conflicts spreading around the globe. It is significant that the exhibition will take place in December, a month of traditional holidays and reflections on the past yearly accomplishments; and this year in particular – on the aftermath of presidential election.
The installation focuses on two tapering structures at the opposite sides of the room. Their mirrored positions symbolize the polarity they represent: comfort, stability and protection vs. fears, dangers and insecurity.
A huge gilded pyramid in the distant corner rises from the floor. It evokes the unfinished stepped pyramid with removed capstone featured on the back of a US dollar bill. The front of the pyramid has a narrow opening seemingly leading to the inside of the gold treasury vault. Above the entrance, the all-seeing eye in the golden triangle watches from the ceiling. The other structure at the storefront window is formed as a spruce in the upside down position. The base of the tree, here located at the ceiling, consists of a wooden cross. Small cutout figures of toy soldiers, deployed and camouflaged among other military paraphernalia, hang on yellow ribbons from the tree’s branches, as Christmas tree ornaments. The apex of the tree pierces through a star on the surface of what appears to be an oversized wrapped present, its yellow ribbon spelling ‘CAUTION’. The ‘present’ contains a television set seen through its torn wrapping stenciled with “Merry, Merry!” It broadcasts a video with incessant holiday fireworks. A slipcover, collaged with the images of the shattered Palmyra, drapes an oversize couch in front of the screen. It symbolizes a by-product of both forces: war and power. Flanking the tableau, two angels representing heaven are positioned high on the sidewalls. Bemused and unwilling to intervene they anxiously observe the battle scene and the growing wealth below.
With increasing concentration of political power among the few dominant players, the inequality and misery in the world has widened beyond control. Power groups represented by gilded pyramid profit enormously from the invention of the new ‘culture of fear’ spread via the media: the daily news we consume for breakfast teem with images of war. The main contemporary sources of creative artistic inspiration are entropy, violence, and destructive impulses. Paradoxically, we need darkness to desire and enjoy light. We remember peace in the presence of war.
The Christmas tree, or the Spirit tree, is an eternal symbol of life in both pagan and Christian mythology. Adorned with amulets and offerings, it was used to function as a protection from evil spirits. Placed upside down, the tree symbolizes thousands of lives wasted and turned topsy-turvy by continuous wars and man-made calamities. The celebrations of traditional Christmas holidays entail peace. Our world, however, lacks it. The Babe in the Manger, homeless and vulnerable, brings to mind the children of refugees, who have become the victims of that greed, which stems from war-mongering politicians.
In times of decreasing religious sentiment, we return to traditional values. The upside-down tree symbolizes their uprooting. The public is invited to help the artist to decorate the tree and celebrate life in anticipation of the holidays. Each ‘ornament’, created and mass-produced by the artist via Laser technology, is identified by the artist’s fingerprint. Ornaments with stamped and signed certificate of authenticity will be offered for sale during and after the exhibition as well as the limited edition T-shirts with the image of gold pyramid silkscreened and signed by the artist.