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Breaking ResemblanceThe Role of Religious Motifs in Contemporary Art$
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Alena Alexandrova

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780823274475

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823274475.001.0001

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The Video Veronicas of Bill Viola

The Video Veronicas of Bill Viola

(p.127) Chapter 5 The Video Veronicas of Bill Viola
Breaking Resemblance
Alena Alexandrova
Fordham University Press

This chapter focuses on several video installations by Bill Viola. Starting in the late 1990s, Viola created a series of video installations that refer to or even closely restage well-known religious paintings. His work makes an interesting case as it seeks to define the conditions of spiritual experiences in the space of the contemporary museum or gallery. Memoria, 2000, or Unspoken: Silver and Gold,2001, are video portraits of emotional states of anguish and suffering projected on a veil or gold surface. Both installations cite the motif of Veronica’s Veil and engage with the complex history of interpretation of the acheiropoieticimage by combining it with a theatrical replay of states of extreme emotional tension. Viola borrows religious formats and iconic masterpieces of religious art in which the religious figures are substituted with anonymous contemporaries. The images function as an embedded frame, thus more as a device than as an image. Next to being a means of reflecting on the human condition, Viola’s engagement with religious art can be read as an attempt to comment on the history of the relatively young medium of video. Viola’s interest in spiritual motifs can be understood as a concern with the intrinsic capacity of the medium of video that can create overwhelming experiences and spiritual effects.

Keywords:   instant, religious painting, spiritual experience, temporality, Veronica’s veil, video installation

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