THROUGHOUT December an advent calendar with a difference will gradually be revealed at the University of Sheffield.
The artwork by Sheffield artist Geraint Edwards is entitled Thirty-One and consists of a series of eight-inch wooden doors, each adorned with Christmas wreaths, handles and door knockers, on view in the Jessop West foyer on Upper Hanover Street.
There are doors for each day of December, rather than the usual 24 of advent, with each window representing a stage in a story derived from classic Russian folktales.
The doors will be opened one by one each day, revealing a new stage of the tale.
The piece is inspired by Vladimir Propp’s The Morphology of the Folk Tale, written in 1928, which identifies 31 possible elements which all Russian folktales follow.
The system by the Soviet formalist scholar has since been used to break down the structures of all kinds of stories such as Hitchcock’s movie, North by Northwest, and the James Bond novels.
Behind each door is a cross-stitch embroidery spelling out a different stage in a folktale according to Propp’s formula, starting with ‘The hero leaves home’ in the first frame through to ‘the villain is punished’ in No 30 and ‘the hero marries and ascends the throne in the last one’ (though that will not be revealed until the end of the month).
The artist, whose day job is an English language teacher at the university, says he hopes that the lack of images will stimulate the imagination of the viewer to create their own story.
“I thought it was nice to bring together the two aesthetics of the folk tales and the Christmas tradition,” he says.
“The black, glossy frames, the handles, door knockers and wreaths (obtained from dollhouse emporiums) are reminiscent of the Dickensian Victorian aesthetic which permeates so much of our Christmas traditions,” he explains. “The more rustic, wooden door connects us to the world of the folktale. These are the kind of doors that wolves knock on.”
The construction was straightforward, though quite repetitive, he says. “I did outsource some of the manual labour to my dad who is a skilled woodcrafter.”
One thing he had to learn was the embroidery of the cross-stitch text which evokes the aesthetic of “Home Sweet Home” and the environment within which such tales are told.
“Christmas is traditionally a time when families gather; when relations come together, stories are told and tales are passed down the generations.
The work celebrates traditional familial storytelling through the festive theme of the advent calendar.”
The siting of the exhibition in the busy university foyer provides a ready-made audience whom Edwards, originally from Llandudno in North Wales, hopes will be encouraged by the changing nature of the display to frequently revisit the piece as it unfolds.
The daily opening of the doors can also be followed on Facebook at a dedicated blog, which will run for the length of the project: facebook.com/thirtyoneinstallation.