The second permanent large-scale video installation created for St Paul’s Cathedral by the internationally acclaimed artist Bill Viola, has been inaugurated in the North Quire Aisle of the cathedral to coincide with the Feast of Mary. Mary has been conceived as a companion piece to Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), which was unveiled in 2014. Mary and Martyrs are the first moving-image artworks to be installed in a cathedral in Britain on a long-term basis.
Mary has roots in both Eastern and Western art and spiritual traditions. It addresses human experiences such as life, birth, and death. Bill Viola said: “Mary is a universal female figure present in nearly all spiritual and religious traditions. She maintains an infinite capacity to absorb and relieve the pain and suffering of all who come to her. She is the personification of the feminine principle, related to ideas of creativity, procreation, inner strength, love, and compassion.”
Kira Perov, executive producer and assistant director of Mary, said: “Moving through its five parts, the work describes a cycle of birth through to death, depicting both an eternal, universal Mary and an earthly Mary representing human life on earth.”
The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley, St Paul’s Cathedral, said: “Bill Viola’s triptych is a contemporary contribution to a long tradition of reflection on the life and significance of Mary. It encompasses the great themes of birth, relationship, and death which is our shared experience of being human.”
In 2003 London’s National Gallery was the location for one of Bill Viola’s most successful exhibitions, “The Passions”, a body of work rich in sacred and art historic influences and which directly launched the preliminary discussions of installations for St Paul’s Cathedral. The idea of creating two new contemporary works seemed a logical next step that would follow the completion of the extensive cleaning and renovation of the Cathedral’s interior and exterior.
Bill Viola (b. 1951) is internationally recognised as one of the leading artists of our time. An acknowledged pioneer in the medium of video art, he has for 40 years created a wide range of video installations that are displayed in major museums throughout the world. His works focus on universal human experiences – birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness – and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism. Using the inner language of subjective thoughts and collective memories, his videos communicate to a wide audience, allowing viewers to experience the work directly, and in their own personal way.
Kira Perov, executive producer and assistant director of Mary and Martyrs, is Viola’s partner and collaborator. She has worked closely with Viola since 1979 and as Executive Director of Bill Viola Studio she creatively guides and manages the production of his videotapes and installations. She has also documented their working process on location and in the studio. She edits all Bill Viola publications, and curates and organises exhibitions worldwide.
The artist’s acclaimed works for sacred spaces include The Messenger, a special commission for Durham Cathedral in 1996, Ocean Without a Shore, premiered in the 15th century church of San Gallo at the 2007 Venice Biennale, and the video triptych Study for The Path (2002) donated to one of Milan’s historic churches, Basilica di San Marco, in 2008.
Mary and Martyrs are installed on metal stands designed by Foster + Partners, to ensure the works are in sympathy with the existing architecture of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterwork. Both installations have been created with the assistance of a significant number of trusts, foundations, and individual donors, and are offered to Tate as a gift from Bill Viola and Kira Perov, being placed on long-term loan to St Paul’s Cathedral, thus strengthening collaboration between the two institutions on each side of the Thames
Key supporters for the project include Art Fund, Sir Evelyn and Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Lord and Lady Foster of Thames Bank, Foster + Partners, The Edwin Fox Foundation, Mr and Mrs John Singer, The Headley Trust, The Jerusalem Trust, Dunard Fund, The John Booth Charitable Foundation, The Ruddock Foundation for the Arts, Simon and Virginia Robertson, The Harrow Development Trust, Jeff and Elizabeth Louis, and Blain|Southern.