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United States of America born 1951

Passage into night

2005 Place made: United States of America
Materials & Technique: sculptures, multimedia, colour, high-definition video (50 minutes, silent) displayed on plasma screen
Impression: 1/7
Edition: no.1 from an edition of 7, with two artist's proofs
Dimensions: installed (approx.) 250 h x 300 w cm 121 h x 72.5 w cm duration 50 h minutes
Acknowledgement: Gift of Annabel and Rupert Myer AM in honour of the staff of the National Gallery of Australia 2011. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.
Accession No: NGA 2011.835

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Bill Viola is a leading contemporary artist and pioneer of video art. Since the 1970s, his work has evolved into slow-motion meditations, often referring to art of the past, especially medieval and Renaissance paintings. Fire and water are two of his most consistent images. Many of Viola’s elaborately staged ‘performances’ suggest spiritual or religious ceremonies, notions of rebirth and transformation. His use of slow motion often emphasises this otherworldliness.

Passage into night shows a female figure in the harsh light and heat of the midday sun. The extreme conditions distort and disturb the air, causing her to undulate and flutter. She begins as an apparition within a mirage, a tiny form in the barren landscape. Gradually her person becomes apparent and eventually her dark robes completely fill the screen, obscuring the natural landscape and transforming the image into a pattern of subtly shifting dark blues and, finally, black. Although her features are revealed, the woman’s identity remains a mystery. The silence adds to the sense of mystery.

Passage into night was completed for The Tristan project—a 2005 collaboration between Viola, director Peter Sellars and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen to restage Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde—and subsequently exhibited as part of Love/Death: the Tristan project. The video also resonates with some of Viola’s earlier works. Chott el-Djerid (A portrait in light and heat) 1979, also in the Gallery’s collection, uses similar atmospheric conditions. In the more-recent dual-channel installation The crossing 1996 a walking male figure is consumed by fire on one projection and, opposite, under a deluge of water.

Lucina Ward
Curator, International Painting and Sculpture

in artonview, issue 68, summer 2011