American, born 1951
The Messenger, 1996
Sound and video installation, edition 3/3
Running time: 28 minutes, 28 seconds
Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 1996
Bill Viola is a leading figure among artists working in new media. His practice focuses on ideas that are fundamental to the human experience. By directly addressing the inexpressible experiences of life, Viola’s work demonstrates how the new medium of video can develop the timeless themes shared by art and faith, just as painting and sculpture have for centuries. Like the greatest examples of these more traditional arts, however, even the seductive power of civilization’s most extraordinary inventions are unable to alter life’s greatest events and its unchangeable realities. To name this work, Viola chose the metaphor of “the messenger,” but lets the viewer decide what he might mean by it. In this installation, we cannot help but remember that we are at the mercy of the elements—air, water, earth, and fire—and, by extension, that we cannot alter the great events of our lives: birth, death, and love.
The Messenger, 1996, was the first video installation to enter the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Collection. It was originally commissioned in 1996 for Durham Cathedral—one of England’s great gothic churches—by an Anglican organization called The Chaplaincy to the Arts and Recreation in North East England. Subsequently, it was presented at Saint-Louis de la Salpêtrière, a famous Catholic hospital chapel in Paris. Although this work was originally conceived to be shown in a religious context, it remains timeless, even in an art museum.
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