'Mater', Bill Viola

Video still showing a close-up of an elderly woman's face

still from ‘Witness’, 2001
video installation, colour video trip on three LCD flat panels mounted on wall
Photo: Kira Perov

Age and the four emotional extremes of joy, sorrow, anger and fear are the focus for ‘Mater’, Two women - one old, one young - respond to and express these emotions. Their reactions, enhanced by the slow-motion playback, are inevitably coloured by their differing life experiences.

The women’s portraits are physically separated by the use of a diptych frame (diptychs are paintings that consist of two parts, commonly hinged together like the pages of a book). Only once do they acknowledge each other’s presence. The word ‘Mater’ is the Latin for ‘mother’. Indeed, the intimate scale and the dual frame perhaps suggest a family portrait.

‘The Ages of Man’ was a popular subject for contemplation in Medieval and Renaissance art. Viola had previously explored the themes of childhood, youth, maturity and old age. ‘Mater’ represents his continuing artistic and spiritual interest in the various stages of human life.