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Bill Viola, Works from The Tristan Project

James Cohan Gallery
533 West 26th Street, 212-714-9500
April 28 - May 15, 2007
Reception: Thursday, May 3, 6 - 8 PM
Web Site

Works from The Tristan Project is an exhibition of video works by Bill Viola in conjunction with the presentation of The Tristan Project at Lincoln Center on May 2nd and 5th. This acclaimed production of Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde is a collaboration between Bill Viola as video artist, Peter Sellars as artistic collaborator, and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It premiered at the Paris Opera in April 2005. Viola has written that Wagner’s opera tells the story of a love so profound that the lovers must ultimately transcend life and their material bodies to fully realize their union. The images in these works are intended to function as symbolic, inner representations of the opera’s theme, tracing the movement of human consciousness as it surrenders to an absolute, all-consuming love.

The gallery will present three video works from The Tristan Project. Central to the exhibition is the large-scale video projection and sound installation entitled, The Fall Into Paradise (2005). The piece begins as the tiniest point of illumination possible in video, a single pixel of light at the center of a black screen. Imperceptible at first, this point begins to grow and change. After some time it becomes apparent that the light is actually an image of two lovers intertwined, clinging to each other and growing larger as they move towards us. As they approach, their distinct identities are revealed: a man and a woman locked in an embrace with arms encircling each other. Without warning they crash through a previously invisible surface and plunge into a pool of water in a turbulent explosion of light and sound.

Isolde’s Ascension (The Shape of Light in the Space After Death), (2005), another large plasma-screen work on view, is a study of light. A meditation on the deliberate act of letting go of the body in the last moments before death, the work begins with a long shaft of light quietly undulating in a dark underwater space. Suddenly, the fully dressed body of a woman crashes through the surface. Her body slowly ascends and as she disappears, the disturbance in the water slowly returns to equilibrium.

Passage into Night (2005), a 50-minute silent video, displayed on a plasma-screen, will also be shown in the front gallery. It documents the approach of a female figure across a desert plain in the intense heat and light of the midday sun. Beginning as if in a mirage, a tiny form gradually grows in size until it is apparent that a woman is walking towards us. The extreme heat distorts the air that surrounds her as she travels inexorably closer.
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