Review: Video artist Bill Viola at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

By February 2, 2016


Fire-Woman1Bill Viola’s latest exhibition at the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park is quite an extraordinary experience. The exhibition features a range of Viola’s works from the past 20 years, including his new premiere piece ‘The Trial’ and three works from the Transfigurations series. There is also The Tristan Project which is based around the story of Tristan and Isolde. One of the recurring themes throughout the exhibition seemed to be transcending the human form, although the wider purpose of the works is simply to explore the psychological and the metaphysical using video.

The works in the Underground Gallery are particularly striking. I guided myself through the blackened corridors, completely unaware of what kind of art installation would await me at each turn. When I realised that the series of art works were mostly video based this did not take away any of the overriding feeling of mystery I felt as I turned each corner. The installations are unique and remarkable in their own way, but are all held together by the similar themes of life, death, and that middle ground in between life and death. There is a particular focus on the latter in the exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. This is what makes the works in the Underground Gallery so deeply unsettling but they were so incredible that it became difficult to turn away. I found myself instead re-watching some of the video installations over and over again.

When I reached the 18th Century Chapel that housed the further two art works by Viola, I was more prepared but was still taken aback by what I saw. The two video installations that take place here are more grounded in mythology, but in a story that itself explores the idea of humans transcending their human form. This is very much obvious from the images that take place on the large screen at the back of the hall. In these works, Viola presents the idea of Tristan and Isolde forming a connection so powerful that they can no longer live in their physical human form and in the material world, seemingly represented by water and fire. 

What is so impressive about this exhibition overall is how it achieves so much, has such an impact on thought and feeling with what is often a fairly basic set of images. I think this is in part because the exhibition has been put together so carefully, so as to give the visitor just enough to experience the transcendental but in a way that feels natural rather than forced. Even when the images became more confrontational, I never felt that my feelings or thought processes were being manipulated. The exhibition is an intense and deeply philosophical experience that feels as natural as looking upon a beautiful painting and allowing it to evoke a depth of emotion.

The exhibition is on display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park until the 10th March 2016.