born 1951 in New York, US
lives and works in Long Beach, California, US
Tristan's Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall)
Domain Theatre, Art Gallery of New South Wales
7 September 2019
On the opening day of the exhibition Making Art Public, exclusive screenings of Bill Viola’s powerful and haunting video works Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension were presented in the Domain Theatre, Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Previously shown as part of Kaldor Public Art Project 17 at St. Saviour’s Church, Redfern, 2008, and again for Project 21 at St. Carthage’s Church, Melbourne, 2010, the works were originally commissioned for a Los Angeles Philharmonic presentation of Wagner’s epic nineteenth-century opera Tristan and Isolde, in collaboration with director Peter Sellars and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. The two videos were created for the opera’s final act, in which the lovers are united in death. Viola drew their inspiration from elemental transformations described in the Tibetan book of the dead. Fire Woman depicts ‘an image seen in the mind’s eye of a dying man’, while Tristan’s Ascension portrays ‘the ascent of the soul in the space after death’.
Bill Viola has been experimenting with video art since the early 1970s, and has been instrumental in its development as a major contemporary artform. Viola’s unique style and imagery, expressed through his extraordinary range of works, has defined a new language for the moving image, using its fluid, ephemeral nature as a means to explore life and death, the reach and limitations of perception and cognition. In exploring universal elements of spiritual themes, his works often echo medieval and Renaissance paintings, seeming at once contemporary and timeless, meditations on the human experience.