worship tricks [first series]
no 44 : five angels
bill viola is one of the most inspiring artists whose work i have encountered. i would have blogged about this a couple of years ago but wasn't running a blog then! in london he had an exhibition which included a piece entitled '5 angels of the millenium'. well the good news is that it has come back and is being exhibited free at the tate modern. he has exhibited at the tate before with triptych, another spiritual piece. as far as i know '5 angels' should be there for a while. this is how it's described on the tate web site:
Five Angels for the Millennium is five large-scale projections showing figures descending into and ascending out of water. Accompanying ambient music reaches a crescendo as the figures erupt through the surface of glistening pools; at times hovering above the surface making it unclear as to whether the viewpoint is above or below the water. Each screen is individually entitled. In 'Departing' light glimmers through the dark waters - the sound of sonar radiates through dark, soothing waters. A figure floats into view, rushing through a storm of air bubbles to the surface. A figure shoots through the frame in 'Birth' while mystical light turns the waters of 'Fire' a deep blood red. 'Ascending' shows the figure floating face down as though drowned. 'Creation' shows a figure with outstretched arms recalling the iconography associated with the crucifixion.
the five angels are departing . birth . fire . ascending . creation.
it's very hard to describe the experience of sitting in the room surrounded by these images. looking at the pictures simply isn't the same. it's very similar in this respect to trying to describe alternative worship to someone - you have to experience it... several things are going on. one is the waiting. for example the fire angel takes about 15 minutes to appear - most of that time is rippling red water where you just wait in anticipation for the angel. also if you're not paying attention it's easy to miss the angel if you're looking at a different screen. and then there's the sound - most of the time each screen is quiet but as the angel draws near and the water stirs the sound builds to a crescendo, then suddenly back to silence. i am listing this as worship trick 44 not that i expect anyone to restage this, but it is a profound experience, and if you're in london at least you can go and see it, and it also enables me to keep a reference to this entry on the blog. it got my mind racing in all sorts of directions. and i felt strangely renewed after the visit. i experienced a kind of longing for God to break through the surface of my life as i sat watching the rippling water waiting for the angels. when i next look at a rippling water surface i think this will come back to me. i was also thinking how good it would have been in advent to read the visitation of gabriel to mary in this kind of space!
the other picture i have put on here is from viola's web site again and is an earlier video piece called the crossing that has a similar epiphanic character.