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Introduction
1993
December

Unseen Images, major show of American video artist, Bill Viola, Whitechapel Gallery, London

The presentation by the Whitechapel Gallery of Unseen Images, an international touring exhibition organised by Kira Perov and Marie-Louise Syring, provided the first opportunity for a UK audience to see a major solo show by the US video pioneer Bill Viola. Viola, a seminal artist who had already been using video for over twenty years, had moved from earlier single channel performative works that investigate the mechanics of film making, such as Tape 1 (1972), to meditative installations that explore the spiritual side of self-perception. The mid-70s had seen the start of a life long interest in Zen Buddhism and both eastern philosophy and western religious iconography play a key part in works that often use the natural elements and the cycle of human life as reoccurring motifs. The show presented seven key works, including the Nantes Triptych, a huge three screen installation which portrayed the central image of a man suspended in water, between footage of the birth of a child and the death of an elderly woman (the artist's mother). Each followed their respective journey with the accompanying sounds of moving through fluid, crying and breathing, creating a powerful installation that acted on the body of the viewer. The dual channel work, Slowly Turning Narrative, offered a similarly immersive experience, only this time the viewer and the space around them became incorporated through the use of a rotating mirrored screen. The artist's investigations into the human condition have seem him continue to push the boundaries of video installation, not for innovation's own sake, but to find a means by which technology can conjure up unparalleled illusions. Viola's work from the mid-90s onwards has taken its inspiration from the Old Masters, presenting high definition, jewel-like images, slowing down time and framing gestures that unfold like moving paintings: the largest exhibition of this series in the UK was The Passion at The National Gallery in 2003.

Marie-Anne McQuay

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