When I was asked to do the Christmas tree, to be honest, it was a rather instantaneous idea. I live in Berlin, and the one thing that is very striking about how the Germans behave with Christmas is that it’s very understated, and still rather beautiful. It’s a hell of a palaver lighting them, so we decided to bring in the performative aspect of it, so it would just be lit at dusk every day from now until when the Tate closes before Christmas.
For me it’s not a nostalgic thing, this Christmas tree, it’s just actually making something that’s just so simple and very beautiful. Because there is nothing more beautiful than a candle, really, like there’s nothing more beautiful than an open fire. And so in our research to try and find out about how you attach the candles, they use these weights to keep them upright. I found images of these from Victorian Christmas trees, and the weights in fact became the baubles that we use today. Also, the funny thing about that was trying to find something for the top of the tree. But in the end, because I called it Weihnachtsbaum, which means Christmas tree in German, that we should just use the very simple kind of Christmas tree top, as they call it.
The candles were made by a wax chandler in Brighton called Michael Marchant, handmade, each one, in traditional beeswax, because the paraffin wax ones are what we are all used to, the white ones, but the beeswax were the original material.
My name is Michael Marchant, and I’m a wax chandler, a maker of medieval candles, as they were made 400 years ago. And the product is a hundred per cent beeswax, and they burn with a golden light and they don’t drip. And I use my own filtering technique that goes back 400 years. I don’t use beeswax that is washed through water. It contains the honey and pollen within the product, so that’s why it’s a hundred per cent natural, and produces the most beautiful aroma. It’s astonishing. I never realised that it would be such a brilliant idea to start with, from the artist – it’s fantastic. And everyone involved has been absolutely amazing, to get it organised.
Well, what is so nice about this tree is that it’s a domestic scale tree, almost. So it’s in proportion to the candles. Usually the trees are bigger in that space, so this is a smaller, more intimate situation. And I was afraid that the scale was going to make it look a bit like Spinal Tap, but actually it works very beautifully – it actually works very well. It’s proportionally quite beautiful in that space. But mind you, I should say, please don’t try this at home! I don’t want to be the cause of domestic fires all over Britain this year.