Bill Viola – Martyrs

Bill ViolaImage courtesy of Bill Viola

Bill Viola – Martyrs

This special display of Bill Viola’s Tiny Deaths 1993 coincides with the installation of a new work by the artist in St Paul’s Cathedral entitled Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water). Viola is a pioneer of video art, and has been one of its most important practitioners for more than forty years. Characteristic qualities of his work, such as the interplay between movement and stasis, and the testing of the viewer’s perception through multiple sensations, have become recurring elements of the medium as a whole.

Bill ViolaImage courtesy of Bill Viola

Tiny Deaths was made in 1993. Barely visible figures are perceived in the darkened space until crescendos of light and sound bring moments of drama. His works of the 1990s consistently show the body as the site for physical transformations – often through immersion in light or water – that embody these profound concerns with transformation and mortality. While Tiny Deaths opens up broad possibilities around the meaning and transience of existence, Viola’s recent works address spiritual themes more directly.

Bill ViolaImage courtesy of Bill Viola

Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) consists of four plasma screens, each showing a single figure who is progressively overwhelmed by the onslaught of a natural force.  The experiences of the four individuals are orchestrated together to form a coherent whole. The overriding theme is martyrdom for deep-seated beliefs, with the physical suffering of the body made dramatically evident through the cardinal elements.

Bill ViolaImage courtesy of Bill Viola

Reflecting that the Greek word for martyr originally meant “witness”, Viola has explained that the martyrs “exemplify the human capacity to bear pain, hardship and even death in order to remain faithful to their values, beliefs and principles.” Like much of Viola’s work, Martyrs offers a contemporary contemplation on life, death and afterlife.

more. www.billviola.com | www.tate.org.uk

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