Monday, April 22, 2013

Fire vs. Water

Bill Viola's “The Crossing”

Known to be as one of today’s leading American video artist, Bill Viola, creates not just amazing videotapes, but entire installations that showcase an object, video images, and recorded sound. Viola uses video as a medium to explore the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge. “His works focus on universal human experiences, such as birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness, and have roots in Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism.” His videos communicate to a diverse set of audience that will allow them to experience that work in their own personal way.
In his work of art titled The Crossing, the installment consist of 2 huge video screens depicting a man being consumed by elements of nature (fire and water). In the first one, violent flames are rising up the man’s body until his body is completely covered, and on the other, a water falls heavily from above the figure until he disappears in the flood. Towards the end of both videos, the man has disappeared, and a few sparks of flames and drops of water are left to remind us of what has taken place; “a cycle of purification, renewal, and destruction.”[1] Among one of his influences regarding this work, Viola is greatly inspired by the thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi. Rumi’s writing includes the following, which Viola took as inspiration for The Crossing “You have seen the kettle of thought boiling over, now consider the fire.” [1]  If you’re curious of seeing the process of the making of Viola’s The Crossing, click here.

A specific literary text that I am reminded of is the Alan Moore’s graphic novel, “V for Vendetta.” The graphic novel is set up in a post-nuclear war in the United Kingdom taking place in 80s to 90s. The main character, V, is a mysterious masked anarchist who works to destroy the totalitarian government, profoundly affecting the people he encounters. V takes in Evey Hammond in his secret underground lair, where she then confides in him for protection, and then when he sacrifices himself at the end, she finishes what he had started.  

When V blows up Larkhill Resettlement Camp—“one of many concentration camps where political prisoners, homosexuals, Black people, Jews, Muslims, Indians and Pakistanis are exterminated and were subjects to medical experimentation, which involved artificially-designed hormone injection[2]—he is then steps out of the fire during his escape.  When Evey’s removal of fear, implemented by V in a mock-concentration camp, she is transformed into a new person within the rain. Both scenes, either within the fire with V, or water with Evey, show the moment of the characters transformation not just physically, but psychologically as well. I was not able to find the comic strips of the scenes but I did find pictures and videos. Please enjoy.

                History of Modern Art by Arnason

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