Art talk, continued. (Sorry if I am boring the poets – I had an inspirational week of art in England…)

Anyone who has ever commented that video installations are not really art must get themselves to the Walker Gallery in Liverpool and see the piece entitled Observance by Bill Viola. (I almost missed it, as it is ensconced in the Renaissance gallery due to its inspiration from the Passion paintings of the period…)

In this ten-minute video, shot in crisp color and then slowed down digitally, the artist asked his actors to line up and step forward to look at something they would rather not see or to say goodbye to someone who had left them. The actors, diverse in both race and age, remind us that grief and loss are universal emotions as they move to the front of the frame, looking forward and down toward something/someone the viewer cannot see. All are stricken with some mix of disbelief, grief, sadness, even horror, and the slow motion captures every nervous tic-every lick of the lips, every blink and grimace.

This gave me as the viewer the unsettling feeling that I was the thing causing them this pain, an unsettling feeling indeed. The woman next to me commented that this felt like watching people file past you at your own wake. Both of us sat mesmerized by the entire ten minutes, and I am not ashamed to say that it made me sad and uncomfortable and awed. In other words, I was deeply moved by it. And isn’t that the purpose of art?

Here is a short clip someone has posted on Youtube – it doesn’t do the piece justice, but it will give you just a little taste.


3 thoughts on “Observance

  1. I don’t know, Donna. I’m thinking one can’t be a poet and not appreciate art, as it’s so much about the image. Thank you for the tour. Whenever my husband and I see or read anything like this, we look at flights. London is our favourite city and England one of our favourite places.

    I am glad you had such a wonderful time and got to see so much.


  2. Bill Viola’s work is terrific. I’ve seen many of his videos, and written about him, and am always struck by how much emotion and how many conceptual layers he packs in.

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