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Bill Viola: Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures

  • Art, Film and video
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Bill Viola carves beauty from futility. The centrepiece here, ‘The Chapel of Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures’, is a grid of nine videos. At its centre we see a clear cracked jug into which someone pours water – which promptly seeps out again. In the eight surrounding videos, equally repetitive, gloriously pointless activity takes place.

A man and woman slap each other; a present is unwrapped and rewrapped; someone carts a load up a hill. The reference to Sisyphus is clever – the Greek pushing his eternal rock up an everlasting slope is surely Viola’s patron saint, although Sisyphus’s crime was deceitfulness, which is worrying.

In ‘Walking on the Edge’, two men lope in tandem through a heat haze, ever closer. In another video two naked old people examine themselves, carefully, with torches. Elsewhere, people hold their breath underwater. What is going on? Very little, on the surface, so why is watching these images so addictive? That grid of videos, I think, holds, the answer. Life is flawed, frustrating and pointless, but when futility looks into the mirror, possibility smiles beatifically back. If we allow that Sisyphus may one day reach the top of his hill, then his dull task becomes an adventure. Open your mind: who knows what sparkling treasures may tumble out?

Nina Caplan


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