Contemporary Art Programme at the BDT Plywood Theatre was open in November 2019 with works by the famous video artist Bill Viola, known as The Rembrandt of Video Art. Audiences could see his works from the Plywood Theatre’s lodge: 'living pictures' were projected on a large screen of the BDT Main Stage for the first time. On November 24 and 27, the theatre screened The Quintet of the Astonished, and December 24, 27 and 29, the audiences watched Three Women. Before each show St Petersburg art historian Gleb Ershov offered a guided tour around the Plywood Theatre.
© Bill Viola Studio, Three Women, 2008. Photo: Kira Perov
Performers: Anika, Cornelia, Helena Ballent
Courtesy of Bill Viola Studio
Three Women is part of the Transfigurations series, a group of works that reflect on the passage of time and the process by which a person’s inner being is transformed. The Sufi mystic Ibn al’ Arabi described life as an endless journey when he said, “The Self is an ocean without a shore. Gazing upon it has no beginning or end, in this world and the next.” Three Women expresses this profound vision of the eternal nature of human life.
In the dim, ghostly gray of a darkened space, a mother and her two daughters slowly approach an invisible boundary. They pass through a wall of water at the threshold between life and death, and move into the light, transforming into living beings of flesh and blood. Soon the mother recognizes that it is time for her to return, and eventually her children slowly follow, each tempted to have one more look at the world of light before disappearing into the shimmering, gray mists of time.
© Bill Viola Studio, The Quintet of the Astonished, 2000. Photo: Kira Perov
THE QUINTET OF THE ASTONISHED
Performers: John Malpede, Weba Garretson, Tom Fitzpatrick, John Fleck, Dan Gerrity
Courtesy of the Bill Viola Studio
A group of five people (two women and three men) are seen standing close together as they undergo a wave of intense emotion that threatens to overwhelm them. As the sequence begins, we see them in neutral expression, and continue to observe as the emotion, individualized to each person, comes on for the whole group and builds to an extreme level. After some minutes it finally subsides, leaving each person drained and exhausted.
The five individuals experience the rising emotional energy independently, with little acknowledgement or direct interaction with their companions, other than occasional physical contact due to their close proximity. The group is presented against a neutral background with no suggestion of the outside world. They do not move from their original positions and no one leaves the frame. The extreme slow motion makes visible the smallest of details and subtle nuances of expression, and creates a subjective, psychological space where time is suspended for both performers and viewers alike.
Bill Viola was born in New York in 1951 and graduated from Syracuse University in 1973. A seminal figure in the field of video art, he has been creating installations, films, sound environments, flat panel video pieces and works for concerts, opera and sacred spaces for over four decades. Viola represented the US at the Venice Biennale in 1995. Other key solo exhibitions include: Bill Viola: A 25-Year Survey, The Whitney Museum of American Art (1997); The Passions, J. Paul Getty Museum (2003); Bill Viola – Visions, ARoS, Aarhus (2005); Hatsu-Yume (First Dream), Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2006); Bill Viola, visioni interiori, Palazzo delle Esposizioni (2008); Bill Viola, Grand Palais, Paris (2014); Bill Viola. Electronic Renaissance, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence; Bill Viola. Installations, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg; Bill Viola. Retrospective, Guggenheim Bilbao; and Bill Viola: Selected Work 1977-2014, Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art, Guangzhou, China (all 2017) ); Bill Viola: Visions of Time, SESC (Social Service of Commerce), São Paulo, Brazil (2018); Bill Viola / Michelangelo: Life, Death, Rebirth at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2019); and Bill Viola: Mirrors of the Unseen, La Pedrera, Barcelona, Spain (2019).
In 2004, Viola created a four-hour long video for Peter Sellars’ production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde that has had many performances in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan. Viola has received numerous awards including XXI Catalonia International Prize (2009), the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association (2011), and was elected as an Honorary member to the Royal Academy, London in 2017.
Kira Perov is Executive Director of Bill Viola Studio. She has worked closely with Bill Viola since 1979, managing, creatively guiding and assisting with the production of his video works and installations. She edits all Bill Viola publications and organizes and coordinates exhibitions of the work worldwide.