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Bill Viola is a pioneer of video art, one of the first artists to really exploit the medium.  His work is often very spiritual, confronting the big universal ideas of birth, death, love and redemption.

His work is mostly figurative, using simplified scenes to direct attention to the narrative.  The lighting is often very focused and water and slow motion recur through his work.  As a child he fell from a raft and was submerged underwater, he opened his eyes and witnessed the light shining through the water which has fed his obsession with water and light in his films.

The Raft (2004) explores the collective experience of natural disasters and war.  A group of 19 people of varying ages, race and religion are battered by torrents of water.  The effect is brutal but not harmful. The water stops and people reach out to one another some embrace.  The piece is a metaphor for how lives are suddenly torn apart but continue in one way or another after these horrific events.

Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) (2014) is an installation commissioned by St Pauls Cathedral consisting of four screens, each displaying  a person undergoing a form of torture and thus being martyred.

The artists gave “visitors and worshipers a dramatic visual contemplation on life, death, and the afterlife, as well as the human capacity to endure hardship in the name of faith.”


Much of his work is exhibited alone, in bare dark rooms to focus attention on his pieces.  He does also incorporate video into installation such as The Sleepers (1992) in which video screens were submerged into metal barrels filled with water.