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Bill Viola: Three Women

The Parish Church of St Cuthbert until September 1st
Four stars

On a rectangular screen that might be mistaken for a mirror, a woman and her two daughters walk slowly towards the camera in silence. As they walk, these three graces occupy a fuzzy greyness that makes them appear like classicist statues come to life as sylph-like sirens. Once they step through some kind of waterfall, the rush of water gives them life, and they stand in vivid colour, their dresses blue and white. They peer out a moment, only to turn back into the greyness, the youngest daughter lingering like Orpheus for one last look until she too steps back in line towards the underworld.

Part of seminal American video artist Viola’s Transfigurations series, Three Women (2008) is a nine-minute video looped so the trio appear to be destined to repeat their walk for Sisyphean eternity. The fleeting moment of transcendence recalls Breath, Samuel Beckett’s even briefer matter of life and death. The sheer spiritual beauty of the piece sees it perfectly placed in the chapel of St Cuthbert’s in keeping with the appearance of many of Viola’s works in churches. Seen in this way for Edinburgh Art Festival, it suggests not so much an abyss, but a shadow line crossed. 

The List, August 2018


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