Bill Viola. The journey of the soul Automatic translate
с 2 Марта
по 30 Мая
Главное здание ГМИИ им. А.С. Пушкина
ул. Волхонка, 12
Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts Alexander Pushkin and VTB Bank present the first solo exhibition in Russia by Bill Viola, one of the most influential living American masters of video art. For the first time, the Pushkin Museum dedicates its main halls to such a large-scale exhibition of media art. More than 20 video works presented in the exhibition were created in the period from 2000 to 2014. They demonstrate how the artist explored the possibilities of video art and improved his mastery of media technologies while creating works that became iconic for his work. In the main exhibition halls of the museum, visitors will see for the first time such large-scale works as "The Fiery Woman" (2005), "Quintet of the Amazed" (2000) and four works from the series "Martyrs" (2014). Tickets for the exhibition will go on sale on 23 February.
Bill Viola is an acclaimed video art classic who pioneered it in the 1970s. For over four decades he has been creating audio and video installations, films, video, sound environments, and media works accompanying large-scale concert and opera performances. Viola represented the United States at the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995; his solo exhibitions have been held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1997), the Getty Museum in Los Angeles (2003), the Morey Art Museum in Tokyo (2006), the Grand Palais in Paris (2014), Palazzo Strozzi in Florence ( 2017), Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2017), Royal Academy of Arts London (2019), Busan Art Museum South Korea (2020); in 2014, the series "Martyrs" was installed as a permanent installation in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London,since 2016 the video triptych "Mary" has been located there.
The first solo exhibition of Bill Viola in Russia covers fourteen years of his work. This is not a separate isolated stage of artistic practice, but a continuation of the study of topics that have worried the artist from the very beginning. These works summarize his creative searches, the main subject of which is the state of a person, his journey in this world from birth to death and the transformations that occur with his soul. His interest in man led Viola to research the world’s spiritual heritage - Christian mysticism, Islamic Sufism, and Zen Buddhism. Traveling the world, he captured visual images, recorded traditional music, observed the influence of religion on art and culture. From a technical point of view, his quest is about constantly exploring the possibilities of video technology. Creating your works,Viola tested all possible modifications of the equipment he used. His work developed along with the improvement of media technologies.
This project is presented by the museum within the framework of the "Pushkin XXI" direction, the specificity of which is the desire to connect the classical artistic tradition and modernity, to open for the viewer a new experience of perceiving art through emotions and empathy. Viola’s work is an exemplary example of rethinking traditional Western art culture, religious images and metaphors in the context of modern everyday life by means of media art. The curators of the exhibition do not make direct comparisons and invite viewers to independently find iconographic references and migratory images, including going through the halls of old masters in the museum.
The works of the Mirage series (2012) - Walking on the Edge and Meeting - represent a contemplative immersion into the “inner landscape” of the human soul. Two female figures in one work and two male figures in another move towards each other and then diverge against the backdrop of the landscape of the Mojave Desert in California. These visual narratives combine Eastern spiritualism and European spiritual tradition, parables about the transmission of female wisdom from old age to youth and about male initiation as a search for one’s own path. At the same time, the works reflect the greatness of the eternal natural landscape, in which man is connected to the universe. For the first time, the image of the desert appears in Viola’s work "Shott el-Jerid: A Portrait in Warmth and Light" (1979), where the artist sought not only to cross the boundaries of perception of reality,but also turn the very act of seeing into an intellectual experience.
In the Passion series (2000–2002) Viola shows how the inner workings of the human soul find their outward expression. Iconographically, these works refer to the classics of the late Renaissance and Baroque, with their interest in human emotions, expressed in light solutions. The artist here works with the concept of the sublime, which, according to the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, is "not just a feeling in a banal sense, but the emotion of the subject at the limit." Thanks to the use of media technologies, the images of ordinary people acquire sacredness: the slow-motion reproduction of human emotions brings them closer to Baroque painting, and the arrangement of the frames refers to traditional altar compositions. Like religious painting, Viola’s works are aimed at perception, not intellectual, but sensual. One of the works in the series, "Obedience" (2001),depicts male and female figures who bow their heads, sadly submitting to their fate, lower and lower - until their faces touch the water. Their images are distorted and deformed all the time, and at some point we realize that these are reflections, not real faces. The other two works in the series, The Quintet of the Astounded (2000) and The Ceremony (2002), reveal human emotions in slow motion, detailed reproduction. With this technique, Viola identifies many microstages between separate recognizable emotional states. The work "Katerina’s Room" (2001) refers to the religious tradition on the theme of the lives of the saints. The source of inspiration for her was a series of predelets by the master of the Sienese school, Andrea di Bartolo.Viola compares this medieval art form with the language of modern media - from a modern point of view, they look like a storyboard, and in their large-scale versions (fresco cycles) remind the artist of the kind of modern art that directly inherits them - cinema. The main tools and techniques used in the entire Passion series are light, movement, and composition, just like the old masters.
The laconic artistic language of Bill Viola’s media works conveys all the drama of human experiences through an appeal to the elements. This approach brings the artist closer to the creators of the Baroque era. The series "Martyrs" (2014), created especially for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, shows four characters going through the tests of the four elements. The artist transforms the idea of the sublime, making it understandable and emotionally close to the modern secular audience. Viola builds his artistic statement around the original meaning of the ancient Greek word martus (from which the Latin martyr comes from) - "witness": according to the artist, the media turns us into passive witnesses to the suffering of others.
The series "Water Portraits" (2013) refers to the theme of water as the border between our worlds and the other worlds. Three heroes of the presented works - Gleb, Madison and Sharon - lie at the bottom of the stream, under water, with their eyes closed, never taking a breath. Despite the general calmness, the works evoke conflicting feelings, since it is not clear whether the characters will revive to life after this immersion or not, whether it is reality or a dream, and what is the limit of human capabilities.
The video works of the Transfiguration series (2007–2008) - Innocent (2007), The Return (2007) and Three Women (2008) - were filmed with the assistance of George Lucas’s studio. The heroes of these works emerge from the twilight zone and, overcoming the water column, again appearing as a metaphor for the boundaries of being and non-being, come to the light that fills the gray blurred silhouettes with colors and clarity - but then they come back. The threshold between these two worlds is a wall of water that is invisible until touched or illuminated by a searchlight. The artist achieves the desired effect by shooting from two devices - an old black and white security camera and a high definition camera.
Water and fire are the key images of the Tristan series (2005), which is exhibited in the large space of the White Hall, which resembles a church building in its three-nave structure. The works of this series act as a kind of culmination of the entire exhibition, telling about the most powerful human emotion - love, so passionate that it leads the heroes to death. The appeal to the element of water is here a way to convey this affectation: she participates in the ritual of ablution, which prepares the heroes for rebirth, acts as a metaphor for suffocating passion in the work "Turning into the Light" and a guide to rebirth in the works "The Ascension of Tristan (Sound of a Mountain under a Waterfall)" and Isolde’s Ascension. "The Fiery Woman" introduces another element into the story - destructive fire. These works were originally part of the production of WR Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde directed by Peter Sellars,and then they were remounted into independent works.
Marina Loshak, Director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts A. Pushkin: “Working with contemporary artists, we strive to find those who are able to help open the veil of time, enter into a dialogue with eternity, with the past - through the present. Addressing the fundamental issues of life - birth, death, transformation - Bill Viola creates sacred spaces in which images of the past are guessed. Viola’s works have been repeatedly shown in Russia, including in the Pushkin Museum, but for the first time in the main halls a personal display of this modern classic is unfolding. Significant works show how his moving image technology has improved. The fluid digital environment of Viola’s works conveys an impulse of sacredness to contemporary images, embeds them in the flow of history and reflects Viola’s own spiritual journey. We’re glad,that the Russian audience now has the opportunity to join the artist on this journey. "
Kira Perov, executive director of Bill Viola Studio, curator of the exhibition: “In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has irreversibly changed the world and the way we see it. We deeply felt isolation, having lost the opportunity to meet and touch each other, but the experience we live is shared. These shocks have simultaneously become a space of new opportunities. We turned to digital media to communicate with each other, thereby expanding personal and global dialogue. At the same time, humanity has been forced to slow down, look at everything from a different angle and, hopefully, listen. In this situation, the exhibition at the Pushkin Museum of Bill Viola, whose slow-motion video works allow the viewer to look more attentively, feel deeper and longer, turns out to be most appropriate. And most importantly, these works,representing the artist’s deep vision of the eternal nature of human life, leave hope for the future. "
Catalogs in Russian and English have been published for the exhibition, an educational program has been developed, and an inclusive program has been prepared, including a video guide in Russian sign language, a tiflo commentary for the exposition and creative activities for children and adults.
Curators: Kira Perov, executive director of Bill Viola Studio; Olga Shishko, Head of the Film and Media Arts Department of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts A.S. Pushkin