You are currently viewing Bill Viola. Two Pieces by a Classic of Video art

September 26– November 7 2021


Level 1

Video/sound installations by Bill Viola Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain under a Waterfall) created in 2005 reflect the creative pursuits of the artist where the main subject is the state of a human being or their journey from birth to death and the transformations of their soul. The interest to the human being has brought Viola to his studies of the world’s spiritual heritage such as Christian Mysticism, Islamic Sufism, and Zen Buddhism. Travelling around the world with his partner Kira Perov he took notes of visual imagery, recorded traditional music, and observed how religion influenced art and culture. From a purely technological perspective, his quest concerns the investigation into the opportunities offered by video technologies. In the making of his art Viola has tested all possible modifications of the equipment he uses. His art grew together with the growth of multimedia.

For more than four decades Bill Viola has been making sound-and-video installations, films, short films, sound media, and large-scale multimedia arrangements to accompany concerts and opera productions. Viola represented the USA at the 46th Venice in 1995; his personal exhibitions were held in the Whitney Museum of American Art (1997), the Los Angeles Getty Museum(2003), the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (2006),the Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées in Paris  (2014), Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (2017), the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (2017), the Royal Academy of Arts in London (2019), the Busan Museum of Art in South Korea (2020), and the A. S. Pushkin State Museum of Visual Arts in Moscow (2021); at St Paul’s Cathedral in London since 2014 his series Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), and since 2016 his triptych of video screens Mary became permanent installations.

In the ancient Mysticism fire and water were symbols of the all-absorbing love wherein the former self is dissolved to form a new contemplative union. Viola turns to these two primeval substances when he works with the Wagner opera on the subject of the Mediaeval legend of Tristan and Isolde. Viola acts like an artist not be illustrating the legend in detail, but by showing metaphysical landscapes and states of passions, emotions, and affectations.

The exhibition is going to be one of the central events of the festival Vasari 2021 dedicated to texts about art. The programme of the festival will be built around the 13th century (the time when Nizhny Novgorod was founded) and its result should be the ‘artistic map’ of the Middle Ages containing descriptions of diverse cultures and territories.

About the connection between the art of Bill Viola and the mediaeval legend about Tristan and Isolde the curator of the exhibition Olga Shishko, the head of the department of the multimedia arts of the A. S. Pushkin SMVA will make a presentation when speaking about the installations in the Arsenal 25 September at 5:00 pm.

Bill Viola made this series of videos following the order of director Peter Sellars who produced the Wagner opera Tristan and Isolde in the Paris Opéra Bastille. Later on, Viola created a video installation of his own to be presented in museums. The works of this series tell a story of the strongest emotions of man, love so passionate that it leads its victims to their death.

Bill Viola. Two Pieces by a Classic of Video art

Olga Shishko

Head of the Department of Cinematographic and Multimedia Art of the A. S. Pushkin State Museum of Visual Arts