Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bill Viola: The Tristan Project

US 2004. Video to the production of Tristan und Isolde originally conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen in 2004 in Los Angeles (Walt Disney Concert Hall). Video credits: PC: The video of Tristan und Isolde was produced by Bill Viola Studio in collaboration with the National Opera, Paris, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the James Cohan Gallery, New Yoerk, Haunch of Venison, London. EX: Kira Perov. P: S: Tobin Kirk. Production manager: Genevieve Anderson. D: Bill Viola. DP: Harry Dawson - black and white and colour - widescreen horizontal (acts I and II) and vertical (act III). Camera Assistant: Brian Garbellini. PD: Wendy Samuels. AD: David Max. Cost: Cassendre de la Fortrie. SFX: Robbie Knott. Digital artist: Brian Ross. S: Mikael Sangrin, Becky Allen. ED (live video mix): Alex MacInnis. ED (on-line): Brian Pete (LaserPacific Media Corp.). C: Jeff Mills (Tristan, earthly bodies), Lisa Rhoden (Isolde, earthly bodies), John Hay (Tristan, heavenly bodies), Sarah Steben (Isolde, heavenly bodies). In Helsinki: video operators: Sylvain Levacher, Guilhem Jayet. Viewed at Helsinki Music Center, 18 August 2012. Five hours.

Bill Viola's Tristan und Isolde can be called a silent movie as it has no independent soundtrack. Yet of course it is music-driven.

Bill Viola is one of the great pioneers of video art, and his Tristan und Isolde is an assured and impressive work, imaginative, conceptually expanding the experience of the music performance. It contributes to a modern and interesting approach to the Wagnerian idea of das Gesamtkunstwerk.

There are three acts in the video. Mostly it is in slow motion. The images are stark, reduced and subdued. The video character of the image is used a means of expression. Split screen is used in acts I and II.

The first act introduces the earthly bodies of Tristan and Isolde. The image emerges after the overture. First slow waves appear, then the sky and the sea. There is a storm on the coast. The lights of a ship appear in the fog. The image switches into a split screen. Two almost invisible dots slowly approch us and grow into Tristan and Isolde seen in full shot / medium shot. Tristan and Isolde undress and purify themselves in water. Water splashes in their palms. They are reflected in the water. They douse their faces in water. They exhale with their faces in the water. They dive.

In the second act there is a forest and searchers with their searchlights. The moon appears beneath the trees. There is a pillar of fire. There is an infinity of candlelights. There is an eternal embrace. The sun rises. There is a waterfall. Fire and water are united.

In the third act the screen is vertical. The ship lights are seen. The waves hit the coast, the clouds fill the sky. Video static appears as a means of expression. The branches of a tree are in the water. There is a mirage of a human form. Tristan and Isolde unite in the water. The crowns of the trees are shot vertiginously in Kalatozov-Urusevsky style. Tristan and Isolde unite against fire.

Bill Viola has created a spiritual and oceanic vision to be seen together with a performance Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. His video does not repeat or illustrate what is already seen and heard but provides a mindscreen commentary, a visual stream of consciousness as a contribution to the total artistic experience.

No comments: