Bill Viola, Electronic Renaissance

Video art can sometimes be associated with indecipherable, conceptually obscure or simply sleep inducing footage in dark rooms with insufficient seating...but this stunning exhibition in Florence at Palazzo Strozzi ( until Mid July 2017) might change your mind. Although not without it's dramatic moments, this is slow, graceful viewing, poetic and contemplative.

In this show, Bill Viola 's videos are displayed next to several of the Renaissance works that inspired/ informed these in some way. The artist spent time in Florence in the 1970's where his video career began, and it is fitting that his work is shown here with the original sources of inspiration.

Bill Viola, Video artist   

Viola ( American, born in 1951) is a contemporary video artist who works with sound and image technology, in meditative, often moving pieces "video paintings" that explore deep human experiences such as consciousness, spirituality, time, birth and death.

The human being is at the center of his work: whether through facial expressions, hand gestures, barely perceptible movements or moments of extreme anguish, Bill Viola explores what it means to be human. His style is symbolic, visually opulent, and openly references classical works of art, as clearly demonstrated in this exhibition.

Watch The Crossing, Bill Viola, 1996

IB Connections abound

Curatorial Practice 

The way this exhibition is curated, showing the Renaissance paintings alongside the contemporary video pieces, not only highlights their individual connections but also ties together art history, making the viewer feel the continuity and fluidity of ideas/ themes/ and visual language across time and cultures.

Comparative Study

This show presents a great example for the Comparative Study: here is an artist drawing his inspiration from art works form a different era and in an entirely different medium. Although the time periods ( Renaissance vs today) and mediums ( fresco or egg tempera vs video installation) may be as far apart as imaginable, the themes, the human experiences that he explores so vividly were as relevant then as they are to us today.

Form and Format.. over time

Ideas and form cross over between media... Viola works in the contemporary medium of video and sound installation, but here we observe how he revisits the format and the formal concerns of the Renaissance artworks that he absorbed.

Catherines Room, 2001, is a meditative video installation presented as a sequence of screens that record a day and the seasons in the life of a woman. Saint Catherine was a 14th century mystic and Viola's piece could be a modern day St Catherine, it was inspired by the Predella of Saint Catherine by Andrea di Bartolo ( below). A predella is a series of small narrative images, often part of a larger altarpiece.

"In Viola's piece, the five scenes from Catherine's life are shown not in slow-motion but take place in real time, performed very slowly and meditatively. ... like a kind of ritual or prayer. .... They take place during different hours of the day: morning, afternoon, sunset, evening and night. And through the window we can see how they are also set during different times of the year. From left to right the four seasons are represented, while the fifth is enveloped in darkness. It is the fifth screen, in which the woman makes her bed and lies down to sleep, that completes the natural cycles of a day and a year, and there is more than a hint that what we are watching is the woman's death." -read more here

Andrea di Bartolo's Predella di Santa Caterina, 1400s

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