Thursday, February 27, 2003

There's a good parallel to my comments on theater, Donmar Warehouse and Fiona Shaw, in an article in today's Times.

Bill Viola has been around for years. Recently he's begun to move away from the abstract ideas of body and landscape that he's known for and focus more on characterization, but he seems unaware of the logic behind the art he's trying to mimic and his actors seem equally unaware of their responsibilities.

The new works function less as images of theatrical emotion than false sincerity. The actors below, from a video shot with a high speed camera -15 seconds of real time spread out to 15 minutes- appear to be trying to express emotions rather than exhibit them, or to try to cause them in us.  The extreme slowness of the action doesn't strengthen the illusion of emotion it destroys it, turning an image of pathos into something absurd. William Wegman's early work, mentioned in the review, is a perfect answer. [I was too general. It's not film or theater it's the acting. If they wore masks or were able to turn their faces into moving masks it would have worked. It's actually the physical rhetoric that fails.]

Another obvious answer is Jeff Wall, whose works succeed in adopting the classical pictorial sensibility these works undermine against their will. Both document the product of the same transition, a return via film to openly bourgeois forms of representation. Viola's work fails. Wegman's early work was post-Warhol, late Duchampian joke.

The Quintet of the Astonished, from The Passions.  HD Video

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