Bill Viola: Martyrs–Earth, Air, Fire, and Water

October 11, 2017–July 22, 2018

Originally commissioned by London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, where another version of this body of work is permanently on view, MAG’s series of “Martyrs” consists of four high-definition flat-screen monitors, each featuring a single figure who sustains the impact of one of the four classical elements. The four moving images are synchronized and unfold together to create a coherent whole.

“Martyrs” is overtly rooted in art historical and religious iconography. Viola said: “The Greek word for martyr originally meant ‘witness.’ In today’s world, the mass media turns us all into witnesses to the suffering of others. The martyrs’ past lives of action can help illuminate our modern lives of inaction. They also exemplify the human capacity to bear pain, hardship, and even death in order to remain faithful to their values, beliefs, and principles. This piece represents ideas of action, fortitude, perseverance, endurance, and sacrifice.”

John G. Hanhardt, MAG’s consulting senior curator of media art, is renowned as an expert in the work of Viola. According to Hanhardt, “Bill is a pioneer of the video medium and one of the most important artists in the world today.” He continues, “To be able to bring one of his most extraordinary works to Rochester is a privilege and an honor.”
Hanhardt recently wrote a monograph on the artist, published by Thames and Hudson (2015), edited by Kira Perov.

Watch ‘the making of’ Bill Viola at St. Paul’s

read the press release

shown above:
Bill Viola (American, b. 1951)
Earth Martyr, 2014
Air Martyr, 2014
Fire Martyr, 2014
Water Martyr, 2014
Four color high-definition videos on flat-panel displays, 7:10 minutes each
Marion Stratton Gould Fund, 2017.1

Sponsored by the Gallery Council of the Memorial Art Gallery

Photos by Kira Perov