‘We are all moving images…’ The Art of Bill Viola

Inside the modern confines of the Blain Southern Gallery in Soho I Am taking in the beauty of a mountain…

Well, technically speaking what I am actually seeing is a projected image of a mountain transmitted through three separate beams (one each for red, green and blue light) that bounce off a surface of water and, reminiscent of the Technicolor films of the 50ʼs, in the pitch dark the over-saturated colours seem to bleed from the wall.

Amplifying the beauty of this image is the subtle accompaniment of sound: a running stream, a group of birds passing overhead, a gentle wind snaking through the trees, all within glorious earshot.

Oh, the tranquility in nature I say to myself with a feeling of overall zen. The fact that just 10 minutes prior I was cursing with upmost fury at the impertinence of wandering shoppers and ill-mannered tourists now blissfully a distant memory. How proud and profoundly wise is the mountain that stands as a resilient fixture until… just like that my meditative being is flung into disarray as the curator kneels down to swirl the waterʼs surface, disrupting the picturesque image until the three beams of colour separate into an ambiguous mish-mash of unrecognisable chaos.

Seen here for the first time since itʼs inauguration at Media Study/ Buffalo New York, Bill Violaʼs monumental installation Moving Stillness (Mt Rainier) 1979, is a superb example of the kind of pioneering amalgamation of mixed media that helped lay the framework for subsequent generations of artists working with video, sound and computer technology. As the water slowly settles and the vibrations subside, once more the image sits clear and prominently upon the wall. Yet this time I am somberly reminded of the fragility and impermanence of the image- and nature.

A couple of blocks away in the basement of a car park on Brewer St one can sample the early experimental sound compositions from Bill Violaʼs multi-faceted oeuvre. In conjunction with Blain/Southern and The Vinyl Factory, the exhibition of The Talking Drum– the first of itʼs kind to showcase two early pieces of experimental sound from an artist more synonymous with video art can be experienced almost as intended; within the hollow confines and cold concrete walls similar to the environment in which the installations were originally recorded… at the bottom of an empty swimming pool. Violaʼs two works, The Talking Drum and Hornpipes have been released together on 100 pressed limited edition records, and can be found at the exhibition.

The people at Blain/Southern tell me that the exhibitions are part of Bill Violaʼs most extensive period of activity across the UK, including other such notable presentations at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) installation at St Paulʼs Cathedral, London. With such a comprehensive spread of works from a groundbreaking artist such as Bill Viola available for all to experience in London, there has never been a better time to get inspired.

(Article written for the Blain Southern Gallery Exhibition on Bill Viola, 20/10/2015)

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