Air, Water, Earth, Fire: Home Edition

I have completed the Video Art project and I would like to share my experience, thought process and approach. You can experience the film via this link. The video is called “I’m ok”. Content Warning: It delves into the concept of suicide and it contains -fake- blood/pills.

Having as a base Bill Viola’s work “The Martyrs (Fire, Air, Earth, Water)”, I have decided to recreate such concept as a response to his work, within the context of the pandemic. So, I came up with the concept of mental health, a matter very important to me and that I would like to put it on the spotlight via this piece.

Extract from the film:

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and its quarantine restrictions, mental health issues have been impacted drastically. Around 40%* of adults have reported struggling with mental health or substance use with 11% seriously considering suicide.

Having that in mind, I started visualizing images of suicide, in many different ways relating them with one of the elements that I would use, fire, air, water & earth. With the element of water I had the vision of a bathtub and blood. As this was my starting point, I thought out the rest of the images in relation to that. I wanted to create four different images of four different suicide situations. The second image that came to my mind was a portrait shot with someone wrapped with the cable of a hairdryer whilst drying their hair. It is a connotation of asphyxiation and using the hairdryer as a symbol of a gun. Ironically enough, that image portrays the element of air. Next I thought about the shots in general. I already had a portrait shot and a far away shot, so I wanted to create a balance and have two shots of each. I also thought about the environment of the shots. So far I had two shots within my flat and I wanted to keep that as a common element, in order to portray and give emphasis to the fact thta quarantine and isolation are important factors in our mental health. Also, I was inspired by the work of Fischli & Weiss “The Way Things Go” (1987), where they created a video art piece in a garage by household items, so in a way ithis is my attempt to capture that piece within my flat with things that I have around.
Having set the environment and the shots, I started thinking about the element of fire. I had these thoughts of portraying different situations of someone commiting suicide, so as to bring forward the many different aspects of mental health and for the element of fire I had this vision of a candle burning. I placed that candle on a night stand alongside a bed. The bed is closely related to anxiety, stress, depression and it fit the aesthetic as well. Having in mind the short clips of Roy Raz and his aesthetic, I tried to navigate my piece  similarly.Finally, I was left to capture the element of earth. That was the trickiest to do as I was stuck within the mindset of having 4 similar images and I was trying somehow to portray another scene of suicide but luckily, going through the past artists from the lectures, I remembered Pipilotti Rist and her usage of color and flowers in many of her pieces and immedaitely made the connection of earth and flowers. For that reason, I decided to jump to the other side of the coin, that of life instead of death, and create an image that inspires and captivates life. As this image would be on the opposite side of the three previous ones, i decided to play around the concept of binaries, as Bill Viola and Roy Raz, so beautifully portray, hence I decided to use the technique of time-lapse which is essentially the opposite of slow-motion.  The final image that I had in mind was seeds blooming out of the soil as the element of earth.

Throughout my whole process I took into consideration many artists and tried to analyze how they would approach the creation of a piece, what they take into consideration whilst composing an image etc. but also things that had been discussed throughout the lectures. I took into consideration each composition’s color and set, always keeping in mind the rule of thirds as well.

Video Art Project: Bill Viola

Throughout my classes of video art, I came across many video artists that I wasn’t aware of but there is one video artist that caught my attention: Bill Viola. Bill’s aesthetic of high definition (HD) videos in slow motion, really resonates with me. I was so impressed in so many levels by his piece “Martyrs (Earth, air, fire and water)” in St. Paul Cathedral in London, which I only experienced via a recording of that piece, though still made such an impact for me that I am thinking that people experiencing his work at the Cathedral, will be affected even more.

I started researching about Bill Viola, his art work, his biography. I came across a documentary where he talks about his process of creating “Martyrs (Earth, air, fire and water)” but it also offers an insight of how he approaches the creation of many of his pieces.

Bill has a very distinct aesthetic across his artwork. He uses mainly the element of water and the slow motion technique. In general, I believe that the element of water is one of the primordial elements of nature, which makes it easier for people to ressonate with, in a deeper subconcious level, hence Bill’s work is so touching. In addition, slow-motion technique, gives the audience, spectator, the opportunity to observe, in a micro-scale, elements and phases that the artwork offers, later reflecting upon it on a macro-scale which gives the audience a more spherical approach.

Bill, within the documentary, talks about his experience as a child, nearly drowned in a body of water, explaining the reason he uses that element in many of his artworks. His near-death experience can be experienced via his artworks as well, if one will take into consideration his relationship with religion.

Bill has exhibitioned some of his artwork within cathedrals and chapels, through a site-specific video art installation, taking into consideration the architecture of the place.

In his work “Ocean Without a Shore (2007)”, San Gallo, Venice, Bill uses the architecture of this chapel in order to create three inter-dimensional portals between life and death. One can see the so-called “visitors” crossing over for a few moments before returning back to the abyss. Bill used the pre-existing architecture of the chapel with three large stone altars, translating them as the linkage, the portal, between the two realms.

Another work of Bill that has relegious elements is “Martyrs (Earth, air, fire and water)” that has heavily influenced my way of approaching video art and specifically the project of this module. Bill exhibitioned his art piece within the cathedral of St. Paul, once again taking into consideration the architecture, the location and the way that the artwork will be exhibited. In this piece, Bill uses the 4 core elements of nature, fire, air, water & earth, to portray four martyrs in their final moments of being turtured, or about to be released from their suffering, as another point of view. He once again, plays with the notions of life and death. He also decides to hang those four panels from the ceiling, as a way to further build on the notion of “heaven” whereas the other artwork that is also exhibited in St. Paul cathedral, “Mary”, is set on a plinth, to show the connection with the earth, as Mary, was initially a human. Within that piece of art, Bill sommunicates ideas of catholicity by portaying Mary as a woman of colour, breastfeeding her baby, with a background that time-lapses from day to night and then back to the day again, portraying eternity. Another art piece that Bill has created called “The Messenger” (1996), Durham, England, was exhibited with the Durham cathedral, showing a man descending and ascending in a body of water in a neveredning loop where one is unable to understand the beggining or the end of the sequence. That could be translated as the neverending cycle of life and death, the higher questions of life after death, not knowing when one’s life begins. Bill again plays with the notion of crossing between life and death, primarily using the element of water.

In general I can see many similarities between Bill’s work. He is mainly focusing on binary concepts such as life and death, man and woman etc. and he is focusing on the liminal space, the crossing space, between the two binaries.

Taking all aformentioned elements into consideration, I will embark in the creation of a short (3′) video art project, details of which, I will communicate in the following blog post.