I’m impressed that London’s St Paul’s Cathedral has commissioned the great American video artist, Bill Viola, to make a video installation/altarpiece on the theme of martyrs. I suspect some people will be shocked and that’s a pity because Bill Viola is a profound artist who often takes life, love, birth and death as his themes. He can also do amazing things with water. I have downloaded a copy of the video at the bottom of this page.
I first came across Bill Viola’s work by accident when I was still living in Brighton, UK and found myself exploring a disused Victorian church in the city centre. It had just opened as an art exhibition centre called Fabrica and it was December 2000. I was pretty astounded and then mesmerised by the giant video screen showing a figure submerged in water but rising up towards the camera. It was a totally unexpected experience that I will never forget.
The video piece was called The Messenger and it showed me even then the powerful mix of the spiritual and the physical in his work. Here is a short extract:
The Messenger (1996):
Since then I’ve seen a number of his other works such as the series known as The Passions which are in some senses based on Renaissance paintings but taken somewhere new by Bill Viola’s very contemporary imagination which is as influenced by Eastern culture as it is by Western art. Here’s a short piece called The Emergence that takes its starting point from the Italian artist Masolino’s mural Pieta (1424) but then takes us somewhere completely different while also moving in a similar way to Masolino’s ambivalent gravitas.
The Emergence (2002):
In 2005 Bill Viola worked with the highly imaginative opera director Peter Sellars on a production of Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde and the results are, well, both sensational and in the spirit of Wagner’s great opera with its Buddhist and Celtic symbolism mingled with 19th Century German philosophy. Stay with these clips for Bill Viola’s mystical visualisation of the transformed lovers’ apotheosis:
The Fall Into Paradise (2005)
So it is bound to be an exceptional experience seeing Bill Viola’s Martyrs in St Paul’s Cathedral. I can’t wait.
It is now available as a paperback or on Kindle (go to your region’s Amazon site for Kindle orders)
…or from Amazon: