Bill Viola's Martyrs altarpiece may prove to be a milestone in the history of Christian art. His hi-tech Caravaggio, while fulfilling all the requirements of technical innovation, also retains traditional thematic spirit of traditional religious artwork.
The video, which has now found permanent home in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, comprises a multi-screen display showing four individuals, the 'martyrs', passing through their final moments - their demise caused by the four elements of nature: earth, wind, fire and water.
While speaking to Reuters about his video, Viola said, “We're trying to slow people down. The world has gotten too fast, literally. I mean it is now really I believe out of control.”
His partner and collaborator, Kira Perov is of the opinion that although 'Martyrs' is permanently installed in an Anglican house of worship, it is meant for a diverse audience. "It's really something where the forces of nature take over and the force of nature is also death and so that's how we wanted to portray the final moments basically of dying," said Perov.
Addressing the fact that his video is something of an exception in a gallery dominated by traditional artwork, Viola said, "All art is contemporary art. I mean you could go back to the ancient world and you find this. People just need to make images. They need to make sounds, they need to create."
Viola’s stunning piece of work covers various themes including birth, death, love, anger, ecstasy, suffering, and fear. The video took ten years to make and is on a long term loan from Britain's Tate Modern gallery.