A sei anni, Bill Viola ha rischiato di affogare: non è un caso se il più grande videoartista dei nostri giorni ha sviluppato la sua carriera in una costante ricerca incentrata sul crinale tra la vita e la morte. Dal 2014 nella Cattedrale di St. Paul a Londra troneggiano due sue grandi opere, moderne pale d’altare che illustrano l’una la Madonna e l’altra quattro martiri, uno per ogni elemento: aria, acqua, terra e fuoco. Il racconto della loro concezione, costruzione, installazione, è un percorso più che decennale di introspezione e creazione compiuto da Bill insieme alla sua compagna di vita e di lavoro Kira. Il risultato sono immagini universali, che emozionano e fanno riflettere sulla nascita, la morte, l’amore, il sacrificio. Arte che ci interroga sul nostro ruolo nel mondo e sul destino a cui siamo chiamati.

Regno Unito
Gerald Fox
Bill Viola, Kira Perov, Alessia Patregnani
83 min




Il Film

Il film segue il videoartista americano Bill Viola e la moglie Kira Perov, sua collaboratrice, nei dodici anni in cui si dedicano alla realizzazione delle opere Mary e Martyrs, nella Cattedrale di St. Paul a Londra. Nel documentare l’approccio di Bill Viola, il regista Gerald Fox coglie l’essenza del processo creativo dell’artista e i profondi cambiamenti che si susseguono in questo lungo periodo di tempo. Il film ripercorre la carriera di Viola la cui opera, sin dai primi anni ’70, ha portato la videoarte a un nuovo livello di conoscenza nell'arte contemporanea. 

This film follows American video artist Bill Viola and his wife and collaborator Kira Perov over a twelve-year period as they undertake and complete the installation of two video works, Mary and Martyrs, in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. In documenting Viola’s approach, director Gerald Fox captures the essence of his creative process, along with the significant changes that occur over the lengthy time period. He also looks back at the career of this artist, who since the early 1970s has taken video art to a new level of acceptance in contemporary art.

Il Regista

Gerald Fox
ha studiato ad Harvard e Oxford. Lavora per il programma televisivo inglese The South Bank Show come produttore e regista. Per la London Weekend Television ha realizzato numerosi programmi dedicati a protagonisti della cultura contemporanea. Nel campo dell’arte è conosciuto per i suoi documentari su Christian Boltanski e Claes Oldenburg. Ricordiamo inoltre i film: Marc Quinn Making Waves, 2015; Mother’s Milk, 2012; Cildo Meireles, 2009; Ken Follett, 2008; George Michael, 2006; Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank, 2004; Brazil with Caetano Veloso, 2003; Gerhard Richter, 2003; Life Support - Marc Quinn, 2000; Emir Kusturica, 2000; The Fundamental Gilbert and George, 1997

Sul set

It will do no good to Bill Viola’s reputation as one of the most important American artists of his generation to be caught in an unguarded moment after a long day’s filming, skipping down a hill yelping: “The best! That was the best of the best!”

This respectful, unobtrusive documentary shot on-and-off over 12 years, follows Viola as he plans and films his crowning glories: Mary and Martyrs, the two monumental video installations on permanent display at St Paul’s Cathedral (described by the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones as “a blast of hi-tech Caravaggio”).

Like Christianity, Viola is all about the biggies: life, death and suffering. He comes across here as a pleasant man, good-natured and modest for an art-world superstar, though with an unmistakable core of pure, blinkers-on drive. Towards the end, he opens up about a near-death experience at the age of six, and touches briefly on his early career. But lots of questions are left hanging. (The obvious: what are his own spiritual beliefs?)

Still, director Gerald Fox captures some moments to treasure. Viola, his wife and collaborator Kira Perov, and the chancellor of St Paul’s damp-eyed, profoundly moved as they contemplate the newly installed Mary is particularly touching. But in the end, this is perhaps a film for the converted – rather than a beginner’s guide to video art or Bill Viola.

Can video art rise to sacred surroundings?

You can’t help thinking that if Christopher Wren had wanted two permanent video installations in chapels next to the high altar in St Paul’s, he would have arranged to be born 300 years later. Still, artist Bill Viola does at least have form, having previously created similar installations in Durham Cathedral and a chapel in Venice. Imagine?.?.?.?Bill Viola: The Road to St Paul’s takes us through his 12-year quest to create the artworks, one evoking the life of the Virgin Mary, the other the tortures and deaths of the Martyrs.

Why video? John Moses, the former dean of St Paul’s who commissioned the work, brushes off centuries of religious art with the words “If you have a painting, you stop for 15 seconds then pass on.” Speak for yourself, your worship! This contemporary form requires a greater degree of involvement from the viewer than the traditional ones, he explains. But Viola is not just respectful of the Renaissance tradition, he is steeped in it, and this film demonstrates that his work really can bear the comparison. Like an Old Master he works with a team of assistants to achieve his visions, but his most significant collaborator is his wife, Kira Perov, billed as “co-curator”. And despite his tech-heavy medium, the transcendental is his subject matter. While the physical world may be the backdrop, “the human soul, the software, is really where I want to be with my camera.”

Previous work has evoked the passage of life to death, as seen in the film of his dying mother. In St Paul’s the added dimension has to be the Resurrection, as a cleric hastily reminds him. The shoots, in stunning but remote and challenging locations, look gruelling. A previous work, “The Raft”, had participants so bombarded with water jets that they tumbled over. Here the actors playing the Martyrs in a 2013 shoot are buffeted by wind machines, covered in soil, drenched with water or hung upside down. It’s a very particular and minimalist form of acting, achieved by almost emptying out the personality. Norman, playing the earthbound Martyr, has a particularly difficult time being sprayed with eight bags of dirt while not “mugging”. The actress playing Mary has different challenges, grieving over a limp male body in a loin cloth in a live-action Pietà, while Viola shouts encouragement: “That’s your son, Alessia. That’s your boy.” The painstaking work begins of putting together the myriad pieces of the Mary film in a shimmering, ever-changing predella (individual scenes from the life of a saint). Finally the day of reckoning comes as first the Martyrs and then the Mary are revealed in situ before an audience of worthies both spiritual and temporal. “Kira and I are just beside ourselves,” says Viola, overcome to the point of tears. Wren might well have been enraptured too.