Blain|Southern gallery located just off Regent Street on Hanover Square, presents internationally renowned American artist Bill Viola’s exhibition entitled ‘Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures’ comprising nine works from 2012 -2013. The exhibition is divided into three distinctive bodies of work; ‘Frustrated Action’, ‘Mirage’ and ‘Water Portraits’. All the works in the show focus on his usual theme of fundamental human experiences, specifically focusing on how people use their time, the human state of monotony and the inevitable end.
Viola has been working for over 40 years and at the age of 62 he is still questioning and pushing the potential of video art. This show clearly demonstrates that he’s not démodé. Throughout most of the show the works are projected on HD video screens, these don’t shout that he’s pushing the potential display of video art. The actual aesthetic of the curation and the atmosphere this simplicity creates in the room feels relaxed, a place of contemplation, and the works thrive on this lack of fuss so that the viewer is left simply with the work and their innermost thoughts reflecting their relation to it.
The work ‘Chapel of Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures’, from which the show takes its name, consists of nine horizontal screens each displaying repeated and questionably pointless tasks such as a man digging a hole and filling it in, a lady moving what looks like the contents of a room from one side of a room to the other. The screen that stands out is of a man pulling a cart up a slope – on reaching the summit he lets it roll back down again. The man pulling the cart has clear connotations with The Myth of Sisyphus and his eternal condemnation – this gives the over-riding theme for all 9 videos. These satisfying videos are all on a loop so no sooner are you judging these characters for their monotonous actions than you are sitting there joining the circle by watching the same events over and over again.
Other works on display upstairs include ‘Angel at the Door’, a piece exploring the fear and understanding of the self-image and the inner self, comprising a video projection filled with tension and anticipation.
The next room has the work ‘Man Searching for Immortality/ Woman Searching for Eternity’ consisting of an elderly man and woman, naked, projected separately on to 2-meter high granite slabs, they are theatrically checking their bodies with touches, both searching for their respective goals suggested by the title. And I regret to inform you but as far as I’m aware neither achieved their objective.
In the room downstairs, containing ‘The Dreamers’, seven vertically mounted HD screens each showing an individual person, ranging all ages, submerged in water, one of the artist’s life-long explorations. Each person appears in an almost euphoric state. The room itself is relatively small for all these works and the constant soft sound of running water makes you feel very comfortable until you contemplate maybe the euphoric state for these beings is the last moment before the end, from joy to doom.
The show is engaging and though maybe not addressing the most original of subject matter it leaves you with a thought provoking stirring and slightly depressing ‘carpe diem’ feeling. Unlike watching Jurassic Park and wanting to become an archaeologist or watching Rocky and thinking you could be the next boxing champion of the world, I know my ‘seize the day’ attitude will fade and I’ll be watching YouTube videos of Frank Sidebottom within the hour. Hello predictability my old friend.
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Contributed by Robert Strang