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Bill Viola: The Passions

29 July – 6 November 2005

Introduction | The Passions | Viola by night – ART-TALKS-FILMS-MUSIC


Gesture and Detail

Four Hands suggests another focus. Four sets of hands – a young boy’s, two middle-aged people’s and those of an elderly woman – run through a gamut of gestures; some are familiar and others rhetorical, some are associated with prayer or supplication, while others resemble Hindu and Buddhist mudras. The use of a range of ages implies a continuous tradition, the teaching of the young by the old, the sequence of gestures complementing but also departing from one another. Elsewhere, in his earlier video work The Passing, by paring back to the simplicity of black and white Viola reminds us of the inevitably of life, which should be cherished and celebrated.

Four Hands and other works from The Passions are also reminders of the complexity of the communication that is possible through our hands – from deaf signing and narrative sequence to traditions of gesture in three-dimensional form. Viola’s use of extreme close-up draws attention to the elegance and sculptural qualities of this part of the human body. The hand gestures of The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara represent a visual vocabulary that is seen and understood by adherents of the Buddhist and Hindu faiths. Just as Christian saints serve as intermediaries between humans and God, a bodhisattva postpones Buddhahood in order to guide those seeking enlightenment, thus embodying compassion and benevolence. Viola references diverse art historical traditions and the history of human societies and cultures.

Bill VIOLA 'Four Hands' 2001, video polyptych on four LCD flat panels mounted on a shelf, artist's proof, collection of the artist, � Bill Viola, photograph: Kira Perov
Bill VIOLA 'Four Hands' 2001, video polyptych on four LCD flat panels mounted on a shelf, artist’s proof, collection of the artist, © Bill Viola, photograph: Kira Perov
 
Bill VIOLA 'The Passing' 1991, video, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2005, � Bill Viola, photograph: Kira Perov   Post-Gupta period, north-west India 'The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara' c.700 bronze and silver, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1978   Post-Gupta period, north-west India 'The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara' c.700 bronze and silver, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1978
Bill VIOLA 'The Passing' 1991, video, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2005, © Bill Viola, photograph: Kira Perov  

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This text has been adapted from the brochure produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum for its presentation of Bill Viola: The Passions in 2003