Quintet of Remembrance:
Video installation by Bill Viola at the
by Mehmet AYANOGLU
"Bill Viola is constantly searching for greater understanding
of the spiritual heritage of humankind, looking beyond
individual limitations toward a more collective, universal
There are hundreds of exhibitions in New York City and one
may have hard time choosing which ones are worth seeing.
Among many interesting shows, Bill Viola's video installation
stands out as a gifted one. Bill Viola is one of the pioneer
video artists of our time, and he is on his way to becoming
a modern American master as well. His current work is
being displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art' the
first acquisition of video art by the Department of Modern
Arts at the museum.
Bill Viola has been working with this medium since early
70s. He started using moving image as an art form during
his years at Syracuse University, where early video artists
such as Nam June Paik, Peter Campus and Bruce Nauman schooled
him. Bill Viola uses the most contemporary electronic
technologies to create provocative videotapes and video
sound installations that pursue an ancient theme, that
is to say, the revelation of the layers of human consciousness.
(Hamlin, 1999) Viola comments "artists must reengage
with the stuff of metaphysics and transcendence, there
is now a potential for reawakening it is so great in terms
of art. You awake yourself first; it is the reason why
you make work." (Kidel, 2002)
Bill Viola creates images and stories of his own experiences
and observations and shows them to the audience. It seems
that his intention is not pointing out to a simple matter.
He is questioning and reminding of man's basic instincts
and manners. As London suggests, Bill Viola is constantly
searching for greater understanding of the spiritual heritage
of humankind, looking beyond individual limitations toward
a more collective, universal mind. (London, 1988)
It was widely argued if video works are true art forms. Obviously,
video has become a major tool allowing the artists to
work at many different levels and directions.
Art is one of the basic aspects of a thinking and existing
mind. It holds a mirror to two different sides, to the
consciousness of man and to the world. The outcome is
a decoding of what is really happening to man and his
environment. Everyone who watches Viola's works might
have several different feelings, feelings that belong
to man. The feelings, that we no more pay attention by
the effects of the information over flow.
It is here that this work deserves more attention. The
Quintet of Remembrance
is a 16 min. color video installation without sound, and
played in extended slow motion. There are 3 women and
2 men whose actions and expressions display sadness, anger,
fear, sorrow and despair in a most compelling way. The
video's two women and three men, pictured from the waist
up, blink maybe half a dozen times throughout its span.
One of the men starts out looking crashed, and eventually
turns to the woman next to him with a look of resignation.
Another face goes from showing some restraint but then
looses it completely. The old woman, who is most active
in the group considering the movement of her hands, is
definitely filled with sorrow and distraught, as if her
beloved sun is being hanged in front of her. All of them
are in absolute horror. The slow motion projection displays
the power and depth of each emotion. This group of people,
probably a family, is placed as one of the familiar compositions
of a painting.
The same sorts of feelings also capture
one who is watching the projection. It looks like a painting
considering the light and composition. But there is more
than that: it is moving in slow motion, too slow compared
to the pace outside of the room. Everything, outside of
that dark room, is basically too fast.
As an example, one should pay attention to what
Woody Allen had to say on being fast, "I am going
to kill myself I should go to Paris and jump off the Eiffel
Tower. I will be dead. You know, in fact, if I get the
Concorde, I could be dead three hours earlier, which would
be perfect. Or wait a minute. With the time change, I could be alive
for six hours in New York but dead three hours in Paris. I could get things done, and I could also
be dead." Woody Allen (Gleick, 1999.)
It is as if Viola wants to stop, or at
least as it is, slow down the time and accordingly change
the space that we are in. It is no more a regular installation
room in the museum. It is a sacred place, like a church
or shrine. It is a place where we have to be silent, not
where we start to talk. Whoever watches the projection
feels the eloquent cry coming out of the moving image.
This work is inspired by the artist's
study of late medieval and early Renaissance paintings,
and the figures actions convey the intense emotions of
the compositions that depicted in most paintings throughout
mentioned eras. Bill Viola used high-speed 35mm film to
capture the actual performance, which lasted approximately
60 seconds, but amazingly, in the video it extends to
16 minutes and 19 seconds.
There are certain characteristics of the Renaissance painting
that are displayed for centuries on the walls of major
museums around the world. Medieval painting is informative
and educational. Viola notes that "in real old masters
pictures, there is something odd and forced in the way
the substance of a drama congeals into one single point
in time. Of course, this flaw is balanced by the special
leisure that we are given to think about the passing moment
This work at the Metropolitan Museum has characteristics
that are monitoring our basic intuitions, feelings and
desires. It is shown in a dark room; unfortunately not
sound proof that there is a constant distraction of the
museumgoers. Still, once you focused it is quite impressive.
Viola has a very deep sense of consciousness. He does not
necessarily try to emphasize a feeling, just provide some
clues about the certain matter that may be happening anytime,
anywhere. It is up to the audience to decode whatever
they think or feel. There is a universal feeling, that
is to say, sorrow, which is implied in this work.
As soon as you step in the room, you are engulfed with this
powerful feeling, and you understand and follow it in
your own way, since it is very humane and natural. Viola
comments that he hopes visitors will be given some glimpse
of something that maybe they had not thought about it
before, or had not seen it quite that way, and he is right.
Viola's video installation was open in Nov 2001 and will
be contining until September 1, 2002 at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York City.