'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.