THE ROAD TO THE SPIRITUALITY OF BILL VIOLA

We propose a tour of some desacralised churches in Cuenca to start a journey that invites to withdrawal and the search for spirituality through the work of Bill Viola. The Church of San Andrés, the Convent of Las Angélicas (now turned into the Cruz Novillo Art Center) and the Church of San Miguel, to which the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art and the Museum of Holy Week joint, are the spaces that host 16 pieces of this creator in love with video art.

Frames from “Fire Woman”, 2005 (left) and “Tristan’s Ascension”, 2005 (right)

Bill Viola has become today a reference in this discipline, not only for the innovation of his proposals, with which he found his way when video creation was still little exploited; but also because throughout his career a constant discursive line stands which becomes omnipresent and permeates every single piece in an unmistakable way. Today, part of his work is articulated in a "Mystic Way" distributed in these five spaces of the old town of Cuenca. This project, which involves a physical and temporary tour, becomes the perfect match between the places of exhibition, the old centres dedicated to worship and prayer, and the message of his works, which seem conceived for this installation.

“The Quintet of the Silent”, 2000

The search and representation of the spirituality in Viola's creations draw directly from Renaissance classicism and the Judeo-Christian tradition that has marked the history of European art since the Middle Ages. Many of his pieces emulate religious paintings that we can easily relate to our most immediate cultural heritage, both for its composition and for the use of colour and light. The author approaches his works as pictures in movement. The influence of pictorialism is clear, but the technical flair in the making and the exquisiteness of the finishes transports us to a point, suspended in time and space, which transcends everything seen so far.

“Water Martyr”, 2004

One of the star pieces of this exhibition is entitled "Tristan’s Ascension." In it, the artist wants to represent the ascent of the soul in space with a sequence in a blue tone that conveys peace and serenity. The atmosphere anticipates the climax, the enveloping sound of water abstracts us from the world, the blackness that surrounds the spectator leads his sight towards the artwork that, hypnotic, traps us to contemplate -not to observe- this process. Mysticism almost becomes material.

“Emergence”, 2002

This work delves into the relation of modern man with his spirituality, an aspect today largely abandoned and relegated to the purely personal sphere of the individual. However, our cultural heritage is very much concerned with religion, not only because of the importance of our heritage for the immense collections of works focused on these themes and the architectural treasures of the European churches and cathedrals; but also because this legacy is still present in the construction of our way of thinking (and even feeling) collectively, in our relationships with our fellowmen, the conception of good or evil, and the burden today called morality that determines to a large extent our behaviour. Above all, Bill Viola reflects with an addictive, raw work that invites, while doing self-criticism, to recover that banished part of the individual. A mystical route to walk through without haste, with the dedication that deserves to think of oneself as a being.

 

Among the specialised professional profiles that we find in the cultural sector, and more specifically, in the field of visual arts, one of the most recent occupations is that of the curator. The ‘80s put attention on the role of the artist, with its innovative character and the enhancement of its figure as an essential articulator of creative proposals, while the end of the century moved the interest towards the exhibition centres themselves and their work as custodians of current production and as spaces to accommodate all proposals. The change of millennium strongly introduced in this panorama the role of the curator. Perhaps together with a social identity crisis, perhaps with the complexity that contemporary projects are currently acquiring, the need for building, articulating and delving into artistic discourses became evident.

Although the functions entrusted to this profession are not entirely new, since previously they belonged to conservatives, critics or experts according to the themes, the role has gained solidity because it combines all these purposes while allowing the specialisation of other professionals in their fields of competence. Now, as some curators themselves point out, the genuine spirit of this figure, who was born to facilitate the understanding of the discourse, create narratives within a sometimes chaotic and scattered context, mediate between the works and the spectator and create bridges between contemporary art and society.

The art of our day raises a multitude of unknowns for the visitor who must face proposals many times away from the aesthetic standards, which gives way to uncertainty and confusion; but, in turn, these works employ a closer language, materials and even compositions detached from the sophistication and the technical display of yesteryear, something that, far from favouring proximity to the message, generates some distancing. What we have just described is part of the very essence of current art. The questioning of the formalist guidelines and the recourse to tangible elements that are more utilitarian than embellishing are the new criteria of creation, where, above all, the message to be conveyed stands out.

Likewise, another inherent characteristic of the work of our time is the artists' concern for more immediate themes, for social, political and economic issues that seek to create a narrative and conceptual revulsion, leaving behind the aesthetic priority or, rather, making of the message its own aesthetic. In this context, strange as it may seem, contemporary creation encounters a linguistic barrier hindering the viewer's understanding. And to this circumstance, the abundant current production is added, covering a wide range of themes that are nothing more than a transcript of our diverse and globalised society.

The curator helps to facilitate this understanding by articulating a coherent discourse that allows the grouping of related ideas to set up the message. This requires to have an in-depth knowledge of the current state of the art, the lines of work of the creators, the most recent aesthetic proposals and the real demands of society to bridge the dialogue and allow the approach to art. If art deals with the same issues that concern us all, how can we not share its postulates? Cultural mediation requires the work of the curators to open a small window for reflection and to enable a space for exchange and idea generation. We share the thought that José Guirao expressed in a recent interview: "The curator is someone who reveals something new, and it would be a mistake for curators to become managers."

Understood this way curator’s role, many institutions have joined the trend of creating specific calls for new professionals to give light to their proposals. Let us remember, as an example, the call "Unpublished" of La Casa Encendida, or "Curator wanted", of the Community of Madrid or the call of Curating of La Caixa.