Reflections of spiritual and religious beliefs in a new era

American artist Bill Viola, 70, considered a pioneer of new media art, presents his video installation “Five Angels for the Millennium” at the West Bund Museum in collaboration with the Center Pompidou.

Born in 1951 in New York State, Viola has been involved in radical experimentation with electronic media since the early 1970s. Like other artists of her generation, he realized that a television screen could represent a new reality and connect distant cultures. From his first black and white experiences with video to the sophisticated treatments of his large high definition projections, Viola’s work is unique, with sensory experiences that he destabilizes by playing with temporal paradoxes and perceptual ambiguities.

“Five Angels for the Millennium”, created at the turn of the new millennium, is made up of five videos projected on the walls in a dark gallery space. Each video shows a clothed man emerging from and diving into a pool of water at irregular intervals, as well as hovering over the pool between movements.

Two performers, Josh Coxx and Andre Tritz, embody the five angels: “Departing Angel”, “Birth Angel”, “Fire Angel”, “Ascending Angel” and “Creation Angel”.

These enigmatic images were recorded by Viola in 1999 using an underwater camera in a swimming pool in Long Beach, California.

Underwater lights were used to create subtle differences between blues and greens, with one socket using a red light for “Fire Angel”. The lights provided an increased chiaroscuro effect.

During editing, all five takes were slowed down. Some have been mounted upside down or upside down so that the sinking body seems to emerge from the depths, pulled upward by supernatural force.

The water element is omnipresent, tinged with various colors. In a sonorous crescendo where noises and indistinct voices mingle, bodies suddenly cross one image or another.

The five videos are played simultaneously but are not synchronized. Each is repeated in a continuous loop, so that the figures are seen repeatedly moving in and out of the water.

The title of the installation implies that the five angels have some relationship with the new millennium, inviting viewers to reflect on the state of religious and spiritual beliefs at the dawn of a new era. Charged with an unknown energy, he might suggest that people occupy their own positions in this floating and suspended time.

“Five Angels for the Millennium”, 2001 © Bill Viola Studio

Exhibition information

Dates: Until April 14 (closed Mondays), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Location: West Bund Museum

Address: 2600, avenue Longteng

Ruth R. Culp