Video art debut in St Paul’s
TWO VIDEO-AR T ALTAR pieces for St Paul’s Cathedral installed and seen for the first time by the public on 21 May ar e attracting a good deal of attention and comment.
The work of the American ar tist, Bill Viola, this is the first time moving images have been given a per manent place in a major cathedral although in the past Viola’s work has been shown in Dur ham Cathedral.
The decision to install the ‘The Martyrs’ comes after a long campaign by suppor ters of the ar tist, including the directors of some of Britain’s most important galleries. There are four ver tical plasma displays mounted on a Sir Norman Foster cast carbon steel stand displaying Ear th, Air , Fir e, and Water.
Mr Viola said a number of senior people in the church had opposed the decision to display the videos but Canon Mark Oakley, canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, pointed out that with any attempt to put something contemporar y in a historic place was always going to lead to opposition.
He said that: “Good r eligion, like good art, seeks to question answers more than answer questions.
“By taking the 21st medium of film that so contr ols our mass culture today in so many ways, by slowing it down her e and deepening perception, that contr ol is unravelled and we ar e left look at ourselves,” he said.
Viola said that for tunately no one had asked him if he was str ongly Christian or the project might have come to a halt. “But this is not the Vatican,” he commented. “These are Anglicans. They are a little looser.”
During the 1970s V iola spent 18 months in Japan simultaneously studying Zen Buddhism and video technology. He thinks his works would be at home in a Buddhist temple or a Hindu shrine as well as a church.
Carr ying on his aim of finding fr esh imager y for universal subjects, V iola plans to give St Paul’s a companion piece next year entitled ‘Mar y’. ‘Mar tyrs’ has been placed behind the high altar in the south quire aisle next to the American Memorial chapel and about the tomb where Sir Christopher Wren is buried. It has attracted widespread attention in the national press and won a great deal of praise.