Bill Viola - building a cathedral in Hamburg

One of world's leading video artists, Bill Viola from South Beach/California, sent his wonderful art films to Hamburg - and along with them, he has also sent his wife Kira Perov to speak on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition with the simple title "Installations".

"Fire Woman" (2005)
(© Felix Krebs/Deichtorhallen Hamburg)

And "Installations" they are, these powerful images, rich in expression and hardest chiaroscuro contrasts. But Viola, who honestly earned the epithet "Rembrandt of the Digital Era", does not only compose mysterious images, he also mounts and stages - like for instance Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolda. Drama, Baby!

Baroque, caravaggesque chiaroscuro: "The Quintet of the Astonished" (2000)
© Felix Krebs/Deichtorhallen Hamburg

Although I agree that there's definitely a baroque influence to the colors and lights of his images, to me he's rather a "Guido Reni" than a Rembrandt, since his heroes are suffering; all of them. Even if in the piece "The Greeting" the women in the scenery, looking like a Greek agora, meet up all cheery - don't hold your breath, within a few minutes they turn all bitter and suffering, too. Needless to say how hilarious a diptych titled "Dolorosa" will be.
But how beautifully they suffer!
The racking dilatoryness of their mimic, the slow agony of winking an eye - all this seems to be painful and majestic at the same time.

The scenes appear even more occult due to the protagonists ultra slow motion moves. And who's not intimidated looking up at a 33 feet high installation? But let me tell you - in this case size doesn't matter, because I've found some of his smaller works like for instance "Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)" much more gripping than this exhibition's iconic piece "Fire Woman". Four screens in one room, each one showing how a human falls victim to one of the four elements - that are vital for our life, thus can destroy it just the same.
Fire becomes Purgatory, Water becomes Floods, Earth buries and suffocates, and for the Wind, the body is just a limp puppet.
The protagonists - just like their surroundings - melt, dissolve, vanish - only to conflate back into old or new shapes. Viola is dealing with topics larger than life: Birth and Death, Love and Spirituality - every aspect of vital significance.

Dissolving in the Water: "The Messenger" (1996) Video/sound installation. Performer: Chad Walker
© Kira Perov, courtesy of Bill Viola Studio

It's intriguing that the calmest and most serene piece is the series "Catherine's Room" where the protagonist moves in normal, though unhasting speed. Due to the aerial woman in an austere room and her contemplative activities such as yoga, sewing, lighting candles, this piece deems very spiritual - almost like a prayer.

"Catherine’s Room" (2001. Color video polyptych on five LCD flat panels mounted on wall. Performer: Weba Garretson)
 © Kira Perov, courtesy of Bill Viola Studio

This year, Viola seems to be at the peak of his popularity: While his exhibition "Electronic Renaissance" in Florence is still going on, from June there are two further major shows taking place in Europe: The "Retrospective" will begin on June 30 at the Guggenheim in Bilbao/Spain, and today I attended the opening of his "Installations" at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg/Germany.

On the occasion of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, celebrated worldwide, the gallery is transformed into a 21st century's cathedral. Thirteen of Viola's  films are projected in the enigmatically obscure gallery.

The "Deichtorhallen", View from the Oberhafen.
Foto: Conny Hilker

The Deichtorhallen, two steel constructions that used to house a central market, are one of Europe's largest Exhibition Venues and therefore the perfect projection surfaces for Viola's monumental work, and the connection with the Reformation Anniversary inspired the curators to organize an interesting accompanying program like guided tours, lectures, talks, and a church service performed by Ms Kirsten Fehrs, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany, on Friday, June 30, at 7 p.m.

"The Innocents" (2007) (Transfiguration Serie)

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