Yesterday I was fortunate to visit the exhibition of Bill Viola’s video installations at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I’ve never really considered myself a fan of video art, probably just because such a large part of my art experience is painting. But when I stop to think about it, there have been several video installations I have seen that have really moved me, particularly ‘Whose Utopia’ by Cao Fei at Tate Modern. Even so the pieces by Bill Viola took me by surprise.
Many of the pieces involve people and water. The photo above is from a video that involves a woman slowly coming towards the viewer. As she gets closer, she reaches out a hand and parts the curtain of water that you are now suddenly aware of. As her fingers gradually break through they light up and you realise you can hear the water falling. As she fights her way through the falling water she appears clearly and in colour until she stands revealed. After a moment or two she slowly turns and makes her way back, her arms turning grey as she reaches back into the water, then her body, until she is just a grey shadow receding into the distance.
I found it very moving, and that was just one of the pieces on display. Another piece that really affected me was called “Trial”, in which a man and a women were filmed being deluged by a series of liquids, finally leaving them clean.
The whole exhibition made think of life and death, baptism and rebirth, struggle and resilience. It brought to mind St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face”. This idea of different worlds or planes of existence has always fascinated me. It’s probably why I was drawn to Science Fiction and Fantasy when I was a kid, and certainly these ideas tend to appear in my writing.
Bill Viola says of his work:
“I have come to realise that the most important place where my work exists is not in the museum gallery, …but in the mind of the viewer who has seen it.”
I think this is true of writing as well. The world I see when I am writing my book does not have to be the same as the one the reader sees when they read the same passage. The writing just has to do enough to conjure up the readers world where the story can unfold.