'Witness', Bill Viola

Video still showing a close-up of a woman's face staring back at us

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

‘Witness’ takes the form of a triptych, a three-panelled picture. It resulted from Viola’s earlier, unsuccessful attempt tocreate a response to ‘Christ as Salvator Mundi, a painting by the 15th century artist Dieric Bouts. He aimed to recreate the intensity of Bouts’ Christ, who fixes his attention directly on the viewer. Viola asked a solo actor to focus with increasing strength on a single emotion, then to release it.

Dissatisfied with the outcome, Viola repeated the process with three women. They too were directed to look at the camera in an unbroken gaze. Like the actors in ‘Mater’, however, Viola asked them to move through the four powerful states of joy, sorrow, anger and fear. They achieve this without making the slightest unnecessary movement. The result combines an emotional force with vulnerability.