Bill viola quintet of the unseen

The Quintet of the Unseen

In the four works that comprise the Quintet series (The Quintet of the Unseen, The Quintet of the Astonished, The Quintet of Remembrance and The Quintet of the Silent), a group of five people are seen standing close together as they undergo a wave of intense emotion that threatens to overwhelm them. As the sequence begins, their neutral expressions begin to change as the emotion, different for each person, overtakes the group and builds to an extreme level. After some minutes it finally subsides, leaving each person drained and exhausted.

Bill viola quintet of the unseen

Bill Viola: The Quintet of the Unseen, 2000. De diepste essentie van de mens

Elk groot sportevenement, net als elke oorlog trouwens, geeft de techniek een harde duw naar voren. De kijker thuis verbaast zich over wat er nu weer allemaal kan. Bij de Olympische Winterspelen was het ‘de lijn’, de onder het ijs doorschuivende blauwe streep die de tot dan toe snelste tijd aangaf. Daardoor zagen we hoe de al gediskwalificeerde, maar nog argeloze Sven Kramer naar een nutteloze toptijd schaatste. Een kind durfde het wél te vragen: ‘Zien die schaatsers dat nou ook?’

Bill viola quintet of the unseen

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There are some YouTube excerpts of equivalent pieces but they seem to be speeded up and in any case this is a work that demands to be seen in the secular church of an art gallery: a darkened room and a focus only on what is occuring on a large screen. Although lunch time is probably best avoided.

The Quintet of Remembrance (work of art)

Whereas the Old Masters were bound to select a single dramatic moment to paint, Viola is able to explore the continuum of human emotion in The Quintet of Remembrance. Viola said, “I’m interested in what the Old Masters didn’t paint, those steps in between.” By filming in a single take, without editing, Viola shows those transitions between emotions, the moments just after the apex of ecstasy, for instance, or when fear turns inexorably to anger.

Bill viola quintet of the unseen

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The video runs for roughly 15 minutes and is projected on a loop.  The only “action” in the work is a slowly building crescendo of emotion by the five figures that appear over-come.  Their faces contort and twist and their chests heave; a subtle building of energy that, when digested frame by frame, allows the viewer to absorb each nuance of their collective emotional condition.

Bill viola quintet of the unseen

Exhibition: Bill Viola, The Quintet of the Unseen

On April 29, SESC São Paulo’s brand new venue in the capital city, SESC Avenida Paulista, opened its doors with an exhibition that was especially conceived for the occasion. Shown for the first time in Brazil, "Bill Viola – Visions of Time", establishes a dialogue with the venue’s core concept: the triad of body-art-technology, featuring a selection of works from the past 20 years by the American artist, who is a pioneer in the genre and considered one of the most relevant contemporary artists in the world.


1992 "Bill Viola. Unseen Images," Stadtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany. Travels to: Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (1993); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain (1993); Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland (1993); Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, England (1993), Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel (1994)

6De telles récurrences formelles sembleraient confirmer la dette de B. Viola envers les règles de la perception visuelle et la façon dont celle-ci a été ordonnée par la tradition picturale occidentale. S. Settis écrit en effet que B. Viola est