Bill Viola: Fire, Water, Air
07.06.97 – 26.07.97
The exhibition Fire, Water, Air featured two video/sound installation pieces: The Messenger and The Crossing, both created in 1996 by American video artist, Bill Viola. As the exhibition guide said, together ‘these works represent the metamorphosis of the human body through the action of three elemental forces: fire, water and air (as embodied in human breath).’ [Fruitmarket Gallery exhibition guide, 1997]
Commissioned by Bohen Foundation New York, The Crossing was shown in the lower gallery space. It featured two simultaneous projections of a man walking through a dark space towards the viewer until he completely fills the screen. One of the projections shows a figure as it is consumed by flames, while the other is engulfed by water. The Fruitmarket Gallery’s director at the time, Graeme Murray, wrote that ‘the form of the work in some ways refers back to large scale religious paintings. And the erasing of the figure through fire and water suggests that the primary elements are the matter form which we emerge and into which we return.’ [Fruitmarket Gallery exhibition guide, 1997] The images slowly fade into darkness and the cycle is renewed. This film was a collaborative project with the Festival d’Automne a Paris and Savannah College of art and Design, Georgia, USA.
The Messenger was shown in the upper gallery. This work was commissioned by and shown for the first time at Durham Cathedral by the Chaplaincy to the Arts and Recreation in North East England. In this work, a nude male gradually emerges from the depths of a pool of water rising toward the viewer. As he breaks through to the surface, he takes a deep breath, and as he releases it, slowly sinks back into the blue-black void of water to become a shimmering moving point of light. The image then returns to its original state and the cycle begins anew.
In order to provide a background for the exhibition, the Fruitmarket Gallery showed a selection of the artist’s single-screen works ranging from 1979 to 1991. Among them, 54-minute film The Passing (1991) was featured daily. Other continuous screenings from selected videotapes included The Space Between the Teeth (1976), The Reflecting Pool (1977-79), Ancient Days (1979-81), Anthem (1983), and Angel’s Gate (1989).
Marieta Guzman – Fruitmarket Archive Intern, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2022