All the Holidays All at Once is an installation by Brooklyn-based artist team MTAA (M.River & T.Whid Art Assoc.), Michael Sarff and Tim Whidden, who have worked together since 1996 on projects that challenge assumptions concerning the process and presentation of fine art.
A procession of holiday lawn ornaments featuring Santa Claus, skeletons, the Easter Bunny, turkeys and menorahs adorn a wood scaffolding that snakes down the sloping lawn of the Aldrich Museum's sculpture garden and ends in spiraling form at the far end of the yard.
To assemble their bounty of holiday décor, the duo enlisted the help of community members who were invited to contribute ornaments from any and all holidays through ads in newspapers and posted on Craigslist and the museum's and artists' websites. Further additions were made by the artists, who scoured eBay in an attempt to round out the decorations on display.
Walking along the length of the installation is like surveying a roundup of the visual symbols we choose to mark the passage of time in a given year. Few things signify a particular time of year as effectively as our holiday trappings, which are more reliable than the weather in showing up consistently during their designated season. Would we even recognize April without pastel eggs and plastic grass?
The Aldrich installation's conflation of holiday ornamentation disrupts the rhythm of our 365-day cycle and has the effect of collapsing time. Perhaps the artists are pointing out the absurdity in connecting more profoundly with tacky plastic objects than with the environmental manifestations of the earth's orbit. In an age when modern industrial agriculture and a globalized economy make produce available year-round in Western supermarkets, we are utterly disconnected from the processes of planting, harvest, and food preservation that necessitated our ancestors' attunement to the earth's natural cycles—the inspiration for the pagan celebrations that are the origins of some Christian holidays.
While a few non-American holidays are represented, the installation seems to comment on a distinctly American brand of commodity-driven holiday revelry. Of course holidays are celebrated across the globe, but the sheer plethora of objects calls to mind the uniquely American strip-mall stores across the country dedicated to meeting knick-knack needs for every conceivable cause of celebration.
Part of the artists' aim with All the Holidays All at Once is to investigate the way cultural practices surrounding holidays seem to be absorbed into our collective conscious without needing to be taught. The artists' choice of materials for the installation emphasizes the role of decoration in this phenomenon. The ritual of installing and viewing ornaments in yards, classrooms, homes, offices, and store windows becomes as natural and predictable as any religious rites or social activities more closely related to the "true meaning" of a holiday.
The Aldrich Museum's curator Mónica Ramírez-Montagut highlights the participatory aspect of All the Holidays All at Once in wall texts and brochures that accompany the installation—"This project, like most of MTAA's inclusive and participatory projects, deliberately attempts to blur the boundary between artist as active producer and audience as passive receptor."
In the late 90s, "participatory" or "relational" art entered the lexicon of art historical discourse. The terms describe an art-making method that resists the traditional notion of art as a discrete entity and instead considers human relations and social spaces as potential territories for artistic creation.
Earlier works by MTAA push the relational element further, including All Raise This Barn (2010), a project in which "ARTBarns" were built on sites in New York and California according to preferences submitted online by community members. The structures were then used by locals for events such as open mic nights and bike rescue workshops.
The creative methodology of MTAA is practically a checklist for subverting the tenets of high modernism. In addition to relational tendencies that relinquish the creative control of the artist, by working as a collaborative team they challenge the concept of the artist as a singular, solitary genius. Their use of found objects as their main source of materials negates the supposed authenticity of the artist's hand. Their web-based practice undermines the preeminence of material objects in art, as does the ephemeral nature of the installation. The spiral shape of All the Holidays All at Once underscores its deliberate impermanence, a nod to Robert Smithson's iconic 1970 earthwork Spiral Jetty, constructed in Utah's Great Salt Lake, which has been visible or invisible depending on the water level and which is eroding with time.
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