Several new works by American video artist Bill Viola are currently being hosted by the Blain Southern gallery in London through July 27. Viola is considered a leading voice in the field of New Media, and is known for the existential and essentialist themes that surface in his work. Drawing from Buddhist, Zen, and mystical tradition, Viola approaches human mortality and spirit through video, sound and digital installation.
The show currently on view at the Blain Southern gallery, Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures, is a museum-wide exhibition representing nine of Viola’s works created between 2012 and 2013. The title piece, The Chapel of Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures, is composed of three separate works that approach the futility, mortality, and corporeality of human life. Within this piece nine horizontal screens depict scenes of futile, repeated action (a man dragging a carpet up a hill, letting it roll back down the hill, recovering it and repeating the effort), echoing the mythical figure of Sisyphus, twisted through the contemporary image of the carpet, an iconically domestic item. Throughout the works, Viola mixes humor into the fabric of the image, using contemporary settings, robbed of any sense of tangible realism. Viola’s characters seem very much placed on a stage, and so play out their actions as actors, bringing new wrinkles to any reading of the piece.
Potentially the most haunting series of this conceptually formidable show is The Dreamers (2013), seven screens presenting underwater portraits of individuals that appear to be asleep. This series is located in the lower-ground floor of the museum, and arranged to encompass the viewer as he or she enters the space. Calling on a figurative and literal immersion, the blend of initial horror and surreal wonder that the piece encompasses overwhelms the viewer and transforms the experience of interpretation into a personal quest for meaning.
With his style and creative abilities evolving alongside his medium for over 40 years, and there is no question that Bill Viola’s work is on the cutting edge of visual, artistic, digital, and spiritual cultures. This exhibition offers a succinct abstract of Viola’s work and artistic disposition, while welcoming a powerful look at his most recent body of work. As a forerunner of the medium, this show also signals an expansion and exploration of the possibilities of digital media. The power of this work lays largely in a clear expression of the fascination and patience the artist holds for the human condition and the spiritual questions that drive it.
Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures is on view until July 27th.
Bill Viola, The Dreamers (Installation View) (2013), via Blain Southern
Exhibition Page [Blain Southern Gallery]
“Bill Viola: “Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures” at Blain|Southern, London” [SFAQ]
“Bill Viola: Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures” [TimeOut London]
“Submerged in Hidden Depths” [Financial Times]