Martyrs (Fire)

Martyrs (Fire) (2014) by Bill Viola

About the artwork

From the series Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), consisting in its entirety of four plasma screens, the element 'Fire' is displayed here. In this series, which is shown since 2014 at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, each figure is gradually overwhelmed by an attack by a natural element. The dominant theme is martyrdom, the physical suffering of the body, symbolized by the four elements.

The Greek word for martyr originally means 'witness', and Viola explains that martyrs, "through the human ability to endure pain, hardship and even death", remain faithful to their values, beliefs and principles. Like many of Viola's works, Martyrs leads to contemporary contemplation about life, death and the afterlife.

According to Bill Viola: "As the work opens, four individuals are shown in stasis, a pause from their suffering. Gradually there is movement in each scene as an element of nature begins to disturb their stillness. Flames rain down, winds begin to lash, water cascades, and earth flies up. As the elements rage, each martyr's resolve remains unchanged. In their most violent assault, the elements represent the darkest hour of the martyr's passage through death into the light."

Martyrs, made in close collaboration with Bill Viola's partner Kira Perov, was the first permanent installation of a video work in a cathedral or church in Britain. It is the first direct collaboration between St Paul's and Tate Modern accross the Millennium Bridge.

About the artist

image Bill Viola, ° 1951, New York, United States
Lives and works in Long Beach, California, United States -

1969-1973: College of Visual and Performing Arts of Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, United States

The American video artist Bill Viola uses in his works themes as birth, death, love and spirituality. Mystical traditions such as Zen Buddhism, Christian mysticism and Su?sm are a constant inspiration. His slowly moving, picturesque looking images bring the audience in a penetrating way in contact with his layers of meaning.

Viola's videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances and flat panel video pieces are showed in the main venues for the visual arts.

Zebrastraat - Permanent artworks - Martyrs (Fire) by Bill Viola