MAG – Bill Viola: Martyr’s exhibit

For this illustration, I visited the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester on Sunday. I haven’t been in probably a year and a half, so the visit was a nice chance to see it again after a while. The exhibit that struck me the most there was in their “Media Arts Watch” section; it featured an exhibit from Bill Viola entitled “Martyrs – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.” This area felt very different from the other experiences throughout the museum – spectators can read about the show on the wall outside (see picture), and then enter a dark hallway and walk through. At the end of the hallway to the right opens up a square room with four screens, one on each side, while in the middle of darkness. The four screens are playing the slo mo videos that Viola created, one for each of the elements that he alludes are martyrs (I could go more into the meaning of the art, but I’ll just examine the exhibit itself).

I think this arrangement is full of impactful decisions by the creator that influenced the way I experienced it. First of all, I think the choice of making the viewer walk down a dark hallway first was actually really key in almost cleansing your mind of its awareness of the reality you’re in – it almost renews your scents and curiosity as you walk into the dark room, and makes the outer world seem to disappear. Second, which I documented in the weird panoramic picture below, is that I think it’s really important that the four videos are on each side (rather than lined up on one wall or something). It forces the viewer into the center of the room, continually turning to view the 4 videos at once. It’s a little overwhelming, but it also made me feel completely enclosed in the significance of these earthly element videos – it made them more powerful and commanding. Being in this dark room, trying to interpret these videos, makes time kind of freeze, and that impact would have not happened for me if the layout of the exhibit were different. Lastly, the signage in this show was important. The information on the wall pictured below is the only context you have for the exhibit, and I thought it was really interesting that some people read it first (like me) before going in, and others just went into the exhibit without reading the context. I overheard people who did this question what was going on or what it was about, meanwhile I had direction in terms of interpreting what I thought it meant from the start. This was an interesting exhibit to observe!




3 thoughts on “MAG – Bill Viola: Martyr’s exhibit

  1. When you described this exhibit, I could definitely imagine myself there and getting a good sense of what you described. I think It was a definitely a good choice for the artist to make the viewers come into a dark room, devoid of the outside world that could distract them. From what the exhibit is called, it seems like the artist wanted the viewers to see the raw power of the different elements, fire, earth, air, and water.

    The information wall feels a bit overwhelming. If I was there, I would want to rush and go into the exhibit as soon as possible. I can see how someone who didn’t read the information wall would have a hard time understanding what the exhibit was about. Perhaps, the museum should have split the information into smaller information boxes on the wall with each having a particular topic (ex. about the artist, about the exhibit, etc.). This way it would make it easier for people to find answers to their questions before they enter and or leave after the exhibit.

  2. I visited the mag recently and was able to see this exhibit first had. Great description of the experience and feeling the piece gives off. I was part of the group that didn’t end up reading the artist’s description, so I was at a loss when trying to figure out the meaning of the work. The whole event was sort of hypnotic. Overall I enjoyed the exhibit and hearing your thoughts on it.

  3. Yeah well described. This sounds like a really cool exhibit to experience. I think it was a great idea too that the artist created a dark tunnel to remove you from the outside space and jump in. The panoramic views must really get your eyes moving, especially if there are good visuals. I imagine the curiosity right away and completely missing the message brief, the design does not do the work justice if the videos relate to nature? Maybe including it in the dark, a projector displaying readable text

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