The Quintet of the Silent

 
Artist
Creation date
Materials
DVD, Panasonic Plasma screen, line doubler, surge supressor, DVD player
Dimensions
24 3/4 x 40 1/2 x 7 in.
Credit line
Dan and Lori Efroymson Fund, acquired through Art for Today 2002, an exhibition organized by the Contemporary Art Society
Accession number
2001.381A-J
Collection
Not Currently On View

For The Quintet of the Silent, Bill Viola assembled five actors in a composition that recalls a Renaissance painting. He instructed the performers "to show pressure, tension, and stress in a general arc of emotion as it enters, manifests, and leaves the body." Viola filmed their interpretation of this instruction in one minute in real time, but the final work is stretched over a fifteen-minute continuous loop.

Since Bill Viola became a pioneer of video art in the 1970s, he has often referred to spirituality in his art. During a yearlong residency at the Getty Research Institute in California in 1998, Viola studied the passions in medieval and Renaissance art. Two years later, Viola began a series focusing on extremes of human emotion that included The Quintet of the Silent. This work is presented without sound, isolating the nuanced progression of facial expressions within a wave of emotional intensity.

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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Bill Viola, a pioneer of video art, is internationally known for works that explore experiences of physical and spiritual transformation-birth, death, waking, dreaming, emergence, transcendence. In 1998, he spent a year as scholar-in-residence at the Getty Research Institute studying representations of the passions in medieval and Renaissance art. Two years later, Viola began a new series of works focusing on extremes of human emotion that included The Quintet of the Silent. To Viola, this new theme offered "a challenge to represent the unrepresentable."

For this piece, Viola assembled five actors in a composition that recalls a Renaissance painting. He instructed the performers "to show pressure, tension, and stress in a general arc of emotion as it enters, manifests, and leaves the body," but allowed them to interpret the instruction in their own way. Viola filmed the video in one minute in real time, but the final work plays in slow motion for fifteen minutes and then repeats in a continuous loop.

The Quintet of the Silent and other works from this series are unusual in Viola's body of work because they do not include a key element-sound. The artist realized early on "that the kind of thing I was after emanates from a human being, from within. . . . Once I started working with the actors, I realized that someone screaming in silence, for example, is incredibly powerful: it just rings in your brain."

Human emotions have infinite resolution. The more you magnify them, they just open up. Infinitely.
-Bill Viola, 1999