Video artist Bill Viola wades into the debate with Mary, a new permanent work set in St Paul's cathedral.
The best-known video artist in the world, his films grapple dauntlessly with the Big Questions: birth, death, God, consciousness, memory, martyrdom. Part of the power of his art is that it reflects the formal concerns of religious painting, such as the triptych and the altarpiece. They might be modern in technology but these are ancient in concept: every moment of his films is pregnant with symbolism.
In 2014, Viola brought Martyrs to St. Paul's Cathedral (no less), where it remains in the south quire to this day. The work shows four individuals, across four enormous screens, martyred by the four classical elements: earth, water, wind and fire.
Now, a second work, Mary, has been installed. Set on high in a triptych of screens, the work is made up from a series of images and fragments from the life of The Virgin. Penone's technique is not dissimilar to Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew or Bergman's The Seventh Seal - the work is realistic, but has more in common with silent cinema than video art of today.
Mary opens with an image of a shaven-headed African-American woman, nursing her child against the bustling cityscape of LA. From here, the piece bleeds into several shifting scenes. We have one pregnant woman greeting another outside a dwelling, a shrouded figure wandering in the wilderness, a woman warming her hands on the fire. Mary is presented both as Queen of Heaven and as everywoman. She is a chalice who contained the uncontainable, but also a mother, grieving her son.
At a time when religious art has waned in popular consciousness, this gleaming new take will appeal to believers and non-believers alike.
|What||Review: Bill Viola: 'Mary', St. Paul's Cathedral|
|Where||St Paul's Cathedral, St. Paul's Churchyard, London , EC4M 8AD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||St. Paul's (underground)|
08 Sep 16 – 30 Sep 17, Permanent installation, Mon-Fri
|Website||Click here for more details|