Currently reading : Bill Viola’s “Martyrs”
In just over a week’s time London’s St Paul’s cathedral will play host to the work of video artist Bill Viola as his latest installation Martyrs is permanently installed, the first time a moving image work has been given a permanent residence in a British Cathedral.
The placement of artwork in the space is by no means a new thing – both Henry Moore’s “Mother and Child” and the installation of James Horrobin’s Churchill Memorial Screen have sat in the space permanently for a number of years alongside a cycle of sporadic temporary installations – it is the nature of the work itself that poses interesting questions about the relationship between art and religion. The focus of his work centres on more abstract metaphysical concerns, the deeper questions surrounding the human condition and the experiences that define it, experiences which his work ignite in the viewer, quoted that “all works of art though visible represent invisible things” and as an extension of this identifies the artist’s purpose as to bring forward those ‘invisible’ phenomena.
In a way this approach to not only the process and presentation of work but his belief if the core purpose of the artist aligns with the most basic components of the religious institution; like Rothko, whose stirring works were concerned entirely with the viewer’s reaction to them, often placing as much importance on their placement and curation as the works themselves, Viola recognises and respects the emotionally provocative and immersive nature of the chapel space. In a way, for the faithless, art could be seen to have taken the place of religion, something by which we attempt to answer questions about our condition and find purpose in it, often content with those questions never being answered.
Ahead of the installation, which will be on show from 21 May at St Paul’s Cathedral, watch the artist’s seminal 2000 work Ascension: