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Review: SUPERHUMAN – Artists examine the Christmas narrative at Unit 51

SUPERHUMAN Artists examine the Christmas narrative – Curated by Laura Pasterfield
at Unit 51. Saturday 19 December 2015 until New Year 2016

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith and artinliverpool

SUPERHUMAN is a wide ranging examination of the concept of Christmas. It transcends various Christian narratives, with opinions formed on multiple continents, and work that in some cases ignores Christianity entirely.

This is an exhibition, I think with a certain willingness to be wrong, which explores religiosity more than religion. It is an exploration of our ability to show faith; in some cases very literally, and in others incredibly figuratively indeed. Jason Dy’s Up is Down, Down is Up is his seasonal display of prayer; of the epitome of human faith; of the desire to believe to the point that things could become possible. That desire to believe, to embrace Christmas as Christmas, rather than simply trees and gifts is what drives this show. And it might be a little exclusive in that respect.

There’s an acceptance though that this perhaps has less to do with Christ for a reason. The artists involved in the show, as you probably wouldn’t expect, are from varied faith backgrounds, and not all Christian; something very relevant to a modern Christmas, whether you believe in that particular gospel or not. Christmas, regardless of faith, is a beautiful story, a story which asks questions of humanity. A time where Samaritans are no longer faithful, but worth putting faith in. An event which calls for us to rest difference and embrace those who we should not have spent a year forgetting.

That, to me, is what this exhibition conveyed. It was an empathetic request to remember what it means to be human, and in that, a suggestion that understanding that might just help relate a little to those we all regard as Superhuman.

Rev Laura Pasterfield, the curator of this show, and Assistant Curate at All Saints Church in Kensington, also contributed a film piece to the exhibition; displaying her ability to engage with her community. It’s a privileged position to be in as an artist, to have the opportunity to lead and to follow at the same time. Leading a flock and following a path are two things you rarely see so openly exhibited, but without that scenario, she wouldn’t have access to, or the trust of her film’s subjects. It allows us to engage in a story we may never have heard otherwise.

That position, that faithfulness, is another huge part of what makes this exhibition superhuman. Engaging with others in a way most could never dream of, through the simple medium of faith. I’m by no means condoning embracing any faith for the sake of art, but finding the faith in Christmas should be much, much less avoidable than it is.

The exhibition was a combination of carols, mulled wine and mince pies, tied in a neat bow around art that embraces the possibility of a superhuman, whoever that may be, or however many of them there may be. It spans knitting, film and printmaking, through the skilled hands of twelve artists. Whether the superhuman is a deity, or a new born child, this exhibition tries very hard to keep an open mind, and encourages us to engage more intimately with the faithfulness and the human religiosity that is Christmas.