Divine Light Show; Martyrs, Unveiled Tomorrow, Is the First of Video Artist Bill Viola's Two-Part Permanent Installation in St Paul's Cathedral. It Recalls Torture as Much as Redemption, Says Ben Luke, and It's Breathtaking

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

Divine Light Show; Martyrs, Unveiled Tomorrow, Is the First of Video Artist Bill Viola's Two-Part Permanent Installation in St Paul's Cathedral. It Recalls Torture as Much as Redemption, Says Ben Luke, and It's Breathtaking


Byline: Ben Luke

IT'S no exaggeration to say that video artist Bill Viola's Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), a permanent new commission unveiled tomorrow at St Paul's Cathedral, is the culmination of a life's work.

In 1973, when Viola was 22 and a budding artist fresh out of Syracuse University in New York State, enthused by the new medium of video art, he came to Florence to work at Art/Tapes/22, one of the world's first studios dedicated to this emerging discipline. While in the Tuscan capital, he visited the early Renaissance masterpieces in its churches, such as Masaccio's Holy Trinity, and experienced an epiphany. He saw in these frescoes and panels "a form of installation; a physical, spatial, consuming experience", and identified with the young 14th- and 15th-century artists experimenting with new techniques, in their case with the discovery of perspective. Viola's reading of their synthesis of spirituality and humanist philosophy, illuminating the dialogue between the human soul and divine light, is always evident in his work.

So many of his videos have taken a religious format, the altarpiece being a favourite. His tremendously moving Nantes Triptych (1987), in the Tate collection, features three screens on which videos capture the birth of a child, a man immersed in water and a woman dying on a hospital bed.

And he has long shown his work in holy places: in 1996, he made The Messenger for Durham Cathedral, and in 2007, the three altars of the tiny Oratorio San Gallo in Venice featured his videos on the theme of resurrection. But Martyrs takes it to another level: it's the first of a two-part permanent video installation on the south side of the high altar of one of the great European churches (the north-side installation, to be titled Mary, is planned for next year).

It's apt that Viola and his collaborator Kira Perov, who is also his wife, have chosen for this first part the theme of martyrdom, explored in four sevenminute films, running on a loop, on four screens next to each other. Christian martyrs have long dramatised the walls, chapels, niches and altars of churches. They were the ideal form in which pious patrons and the artists they commissioned could reflect the glory of God: their grisly deaths in the name of Christianity were the ultimate evidence of faith, making them the holiest of intercessors between God and those who prayed to Him.

But while traditional Christian saints can be easily identified by the attributes that usually mark the brutality of their death and torture -- St Catherine with her wheel set with knives, Saint Lawrence with the iron grid on which he was roasted alive -- Viola's martyrs, characteristically, are "more generic", as he puts it. Both the artist and St Paul's recognise that visi-tors to the cathedral are multi-faith, or even non-believers, so the idea is that his protagonists' ordeal can inspire empathy in us all. This reflects Viola's personal world view: he is as interested in Sufism and Buddhism as he is in the more mystical aspects of Christianity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Divine Light Show; Martyrs, Unveiled Tomorrow, Is the First of Video Artist Bill Viola's Two-Part Permanent Installation in St Paul's Cathedral. It Recalls Torture as Much as Redemption, Says Ben Luke, and It's Breathtaking
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.