Last night I went to church. I’m not religious, but it did feel like quite a religious experience. I went to see Bill Viola’s installation piece Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension at St Carthage’s Church on Royal Parade.
Small groups of people gather out the front discussing the experience, but once you enter the small cathedral, you are faced with a long screen strung up at the front of the hall. People sit in pews staring forward mesmorised by the 26-minute piece made up of two video works (10 and 16 minutes respectively). Shown in a continuous loop, the two works, Fire Woman (2005) and Tristan’s Ascension (The Sounds of a Mountain Under a Waterfall) (2005), are a visual and aural experience that extends Viola’s lifelong engagement with the human condition. It invokes themes of ancient times, life, love and death, but there is a particularly strong spiritual theme that is quite overwhelming, enhanced by the location.
Typical of Viola’s video installations, the environment envelops the viewer in sounds and image, projected on to a long flat panel that hangs from the roof of the chapel. The images evolve progressively from fire to water in a most captivating way leaves you feeling a little lucid.
As part of the 2010 Melbourne Festival, together with Kaldor Public Art Projects and Australia Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), St Carthage’s Catholic Church in Parkville has been turned into a video art shrine for the Viola work, which has been screened for 3 hours every evening after dark. The work comes down on Sunday, so get down there tonight if you can.
Bill Viola’s Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension at St Carthage’s Church runs until Saturday 23 October. Screenings are held from 7.30pm-10pm (last entry 9.30pm).