Bill Viola is one of worlds modern, visual artists, who uses video and sensory artistry. He has for over 40 years created art in various forms, such as installations, architectural video installations, warped sound environments, while also commercial work for television. The environmental impact of the senses through perception is a way for humanity to explore self-knowledge. What is it to be human is the main question. He uses experiences such as birth, death and human consciousness. The work is spiritual both in methods and traditions.
The whole experience of going to see the exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture park was one of a small self- exploration against the elements. We were warned that it was muddy, and yes it was. We were warned that it would be cold and yes it was. And finally we were told to wear sensible clothing…. we were a bunch of under-prepared misfits. But this was this first lesson.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a place you want to explore and it has this wonderland feel to it. The sculpture Park is on the Bretton Estate and is a 500-acre plot It has always been a place of creativity. In the 16th Century, Sir Thoman Wentworth had bespoke furniture designed for King Henry the 8th, just in case he was to ever visit. Sir William Wentworth built the Palladian mansion that is now part of the main hall. And his Son Thoman Wentworth designed many of the gardens and parks. Thomas was meant to be absolutely eccentric and was known for his lavish parties.
In 1948, the much of the estate was sold to the council and then became a training college for teachers in Drama, Music and Art. This college later merged with the University of Leeds. 1977 was the Year that the sculpture park became established and it seems fitting that from the origins, it has evolved into what people experience today.
So we headed to the Church, and as the door opened we were dropped into a deafening sound of water, falling. It was resonant, moving and cold. We then entered the main chamber of this small church. There was no light, only blue glow from this huge screen, that scaled the height of the building. But then all of a sudden the screen went off.
And we sat in silence.
After about 1 minute, the screen lights up and there is a man, wrapped in white muslin. Already saturated through with water. He is laying on a grey wet slate plinth. It is like his body has been prepared to pass over. And then after a while, the water begins to drop again, slowly a single drip. Time becomes long but then does it? Slowly but surely the water increases and with this increase we see the body begin to rise and the man is lifted by his feet up into the gods of the screen and the building.
The sound continues to get louder and increase with the flow of water. Until we are left with just water. This water cascading continues for a time that we are unaware of until it stops and we have finished. You walk away from the experience, feeling calm but also very aware of loneliness and coldness. I think that this was due to the building, the temperature and the coldness of the video. The symbolism is clear and cleansing, even thought in the location and positioning of this artwork was considered, in the architectural form. The body is positioned at the head of the church and it is like we are part of someone’s funeral. On an agnostic personal level, I wonder if this is something that could be experienced after death. It is dreamlike, it is sensory and makes me want to see more. How does Viola use fire?
We leave the church and begin to explore the park further before we head to the final screening. At this point it all goes very strange. the whole experience is like being on the film set of the 1978 version of the ‘Water babies’ crossed with the “Mad Hatters Tea Party” and no one is prepared for the mud.
We walked and explored, and discovered a digital horse running in clearing and stumbled across a carnelian indoor garden. Along the walk were these sculptures, that would just appear from now where, and we finally found the giant bunny. And why not a giant bunny?
From this, we made our way to the final Viola artworks, which were located in the main basement from the visitors center. So we go from the extremes of the cold and the mud to the heat and the powerful warmth of the basement. This is when we are introduced to Violas work with fire and ritual.
The exhibition started off with the use of grey scale images and it is like ghostly figure passing back and forth from one another. They are grey scaled lost souls in a form of purgatory. Following round from this there is a warm glow and the temperature of the room is unbearable. To the point, it is suffocating. The use of fire and dark figures is what is being projected onto the screen. I find myself wanting to leave this room immediately. For it is to all too hot and dark.
Weaving through the rooms, there was one that stuck out for the visuals. It was two videos. A lady lighting a candle and a man walking up to some coals. With each candle lit, the figure, the man grew closer. To the point where all the candles were lit and the woman was then submerging herself into the water, that is present the whole time but you are unaware, for you think the floor is marble. And this is the illusion. Once again this symbolism, cultural and religious practice is present in Violas work
Viola doesn’t just work with projecting onto screens, textures such as layered silk, that give a different dynamic to the video, for a change in perception.
And finally, the last images can only be described as beautifully chilling. These are cinemagraph type videos, that reminds me of British artist Sir John Everett Millais painting Ophelia. People literally looking like they are asleep underwater, just waiting to be woken up from a dream. ……….