December brings with it two evocative and personal exhibitions on the subjects of Christmas, the human condition and the world at large. They are presented by artists I greatly admire for their ability to give us pause for thought through their narrative whilst also offering us the opportunity to appreciate them for their pure artistic quality. Given this, and the fact that these exhibitions are being shown in the halls of the main gallery space at the Kondor Art Centre, I’ve opted to write about them in a joint article.
Within Christmas in Ukraine, Hermes Kondor once more offers a series of photo-like images generated via the Midjourney AI programme and the post-processed to provide a collection of digital prints that are rich in emotional content. The best way to describe it is through Hermes’ own words:
Christmas in Ukraine is a personal project created to pay a deep heartfelt tribute to the people of Ukraine who do not have the same right, as we do, to celebrate Christmas.
– Hermes Kondor
Presented as a collection of 15 pieces in the manner of a photo-journalistic study, there are pieces not celebrating the resistance of the Ukrainian people against their invaders, but offered rather as stories of reunion, love and rejoining, as the men and women, wives and husbands, fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters, lovers and friends, may experience reunions of hope and peace across the their homeland, so rudely torn asunder throughout most of 2022.
Digital productions these may be, there is no denying the humanity they contain. They also stand as a reminder that, no matter what your political stripe, the use of organised military force through acts of war in suppression of others is not something to be celebrated but – in a so-called civilised age – preferably avoided. For while it may well by measured in terms of political (or religious) “success”, it is inevitably a story of human suffering.
Across the square, Scyllia Rhiadra presents God with Us: Essays on Christmas within the lower-floor setting of the 2-storey Main Gallery hall 1.
Utilising avatar-centric photographs posed and captured within Second Life, this is a richly layered collection that juxtaposes her images with quotes primarily from the Gospels concerning the birth of Christ (although some are taken more broadly from the Bible and other religious writers), to produce pieces that both reflect the Biblical presentation of Christ’s birth and offer modern commentary.
Within this structure, Scyllia also seeks to express a measure of her own attitude towards Christmas, encompassing childhood memories – presents under the tree, etc., – with her outlook on matters of faith and the Christmas message and the messages of hope, sacrifice and love it contains. These are aspects that Scyllia beautifully outlines within the artist’s notes available from the board just inside the gallery entrance. As such, and at the risk of putting words into Scyllia’s mouth, I’ll focus here on the broader message these images convey to me.
To me this broader message appears to be a commentary on the realities of the so-called “Christian spirit” as all too often espoused by the organised churches and branches of the Christian faith today and which – I would gamble – Christ himself would oppose were He here. This commentary appears throughout many of the pieces within this exhibition; perhaps most visibly The Innocents; however, I’ll focus my thinking on the neighbouring piece, No Room.
On the one hand, this is a modern-day representation of the plight faced by Joseph and his heavily pregnant wife: forced to make a long, uncomfortable trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfil political requirements, only to find themselves denied reasonable comfort and rest on their arrival. On the other, with its modern backdrop, it is a reminder that, in an age of mass human displacement, when Charity – the so-called greatest of the three Christian graces (the other being faith and hope – see 1 Corinthians 13:13) – is greatly needed the world over, it is all too often the loudest voices raised in opposition to the idea of any form of charity, large or small, being given, are those all too equally loudly raised in proclamations of their “Christian values”.
This layering of context and meaning can be found throughout God with Us: Essays on Christmas, encompassing elements such as the commercialisation of Christmas and the sheer selfishness that Christmas tends to bring out, and more. All of which marks this as an exhibition fully deserving of considered viewing.
Two superb exhibitions by two gifted artists, both Christmas in Ukraine, and God with Us: Essays on Christmas are appropriate and engaging exhibitions for the time of year, and I have no hesitation in recommending both.
- Kondor Main Galley complex, Kondor Arts Centre (Waka, rated Moderate)