Nick Hackworth

Bill Viola — Love/Death: The Tristan Project, Haunch of Venison

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

The most spectacular moment comes suddenly, after a long, calm wait. A white dot appears on a black screen. Almost imperceptibly, it grows, resolving itself into an image of a man and woman entwined. They fall through darkness until, with unexpected , they crash through an invisible barrier to float, suspended in serene slow motion, in blue water lit from above, and their forms become ghostly silhouettes.

This passage from The Fall into Paradise comes from a suite of eight works by Bill Viola, one of the world’s most renowned video artists. The pieces were created originally as a set for Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Paris Opera last year. They have now been reconfigured to stand in their own right, and are presented in spectacular fashion over two venues, the Haunch of Venison in Mayfair and St Olave’s College, near London Bridge.

Commissioned works disengaged from their original purpose risk becoming obscure, but the story of the doom-struck lovers, and the consequent imagery used by Viola — a couple subjected to abstracted, elemental environments, walls of fire, depths of water and the vastness of the sea — prove universal enough to sustain the break.

The hint of a narrative driving the sequence of films that take us from the couple’s initial rapture to their tragic deaths, adds poignancy. They are both beautiful and moving and at their best in The Fall into Paradise and Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall), in which Tristan’s body, lying on a slab, is engulfed in a waterfall that flows upwards from the stone, raising him up and out of the picture frame.

There is much technical trickery involved, and production values are high; the works are produced with the same lavish attention and budget as the most expensive adverts. But it’s Viola’s ability to conceive and create passages of combined image and sound that cuts right to the heart of the matter.

Until 2 September(020 7495 5050)