Go See – London: Bill Viola ‘The Quintet of the Unseen’ at Blain Southern Gallery through March 26, 2011

March 18th, 2011

Bill Viola, The Quintet of the Unseen, 2000 (production still) All photos: Kira Perov courtesy of Blain Southern

Currently on view in London is Bill Viola’s evocative installation, Quintet of the Unseen.  As a founding practitioner in the field of New Media, Bill Viola is perhaps most famous for his large scale, multi-projection installations.  The artist interests himself primarily with fundamental notions of lived human experience, often with the inclusion of religious subtexts and references to art history.  Death, birth, rebirth, purification, and penitence are common themes.

More text and images after the jump…

Bill Viola, The Quintet of the Unseen, 2000 (production still)

Blain Southern is a brand new gallery on London’s Dering Street.  The project is a collaboration between mega-dealer Harry Blain and former Christie’s dealer Graham Southern.  The two began a partnership in 2002 with Haunch of Venison, a space originally housed in Haunch of Venison Yard in London’s West End.  The project has since expanded to Berlin, Zurich, and New York.  The duo’s most recent project, Blain Southern, opened last year with YBA veteran Mat Collishaw’s Creation Condemned.

Bill Viola, The Quintet of the Unseen, 2000 (installation view)

Viola’s Quintet is the second exhibition at the new space, which seems particularly interested in the work of established artists working in New Media.  The video, which is displayed using a single projector, is very much in the tradition of Viola’s video works.  The artist’s videos are most always projected in ultra-slow motion, this one giving the impression of a tableau-vivant with the elaborate costumes and subtle movements.  The five figures don colored robes and are grounded in a backdrop of rich black.  The composition recalls that of a Renaissance painting with an evocation of Christian imagery that the artist leaves intentionally opaque.

Bill Viola, The Quintet of the Unseen, 2000 (installation view)

The video runs for roughly 15 minutes and is projected on a loop.  The only “action” in the work is a slowly building crescendo of emotion by the five figures that appear over-come.  Their faces contort and twist and their chests heave; a subtle building of energy that, when digested frame by frame, allows the viewer to absorb each nuance of their collective emotional condition.

There is something captivating about this work, which is a bit of a departure from the more overtly religious videos exhibited internationally by Viola over the past five years (link).  Quintet is more relatable, more digestible.  The viewer is left both empathic for the tortured figures on screen and transfixed by their suffering.

Bill Viola, The Quintet of the Unseen, 2000 (production still)

-M. Phinney

Related Links:
Exhibition page [Blain Southern]