Nick Hackworth

Bill Viola, Anthony d’Offay Gallery

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

On the wall, immediately upon the left as you walk into the gallery, hang two flat, rectangular plasma screens. A silent video plays on each display, a man in one, a woman in the other. They both stand facing the viewer, contorting as if possessed, their faces and bodies twisted in quiet pain. The videos have been slowed to a pace that is a fraction of real time so that their agony is artificially stretched across the elongated seconds. The plasma screens only serve to intensify the emotions, delivering an almost tangible hyper-real richness, luminosity and density of colour.

All the pieces are variations upon this theme, basic human emotions or actions with the stuff of everyday life stripped away till all that is left are the bare bones, explored through high-tech video, often with time expanded or contracted. Bill Viola, who has been at the forefront of video art since the late Sixties, has always investigated these themes. But since many of these works are displayed on LCD and plasma screens, comparisons are being drawn between them and medieval and early Renaissance devotional works that have a similar visual intensity and the same ability to evoke emotions through a pared down focus on the human form.

In the same room, a triptych displays three female faces going through a cycle of basic emotions; joy, fear, anger and sadness. But the cycle is so slow and the change is so imperceptible that the essence of each emotion is lost and each face becomes trapped in a permanent moment of distortion, as when the words of a sentence are read at glacial pace and lose their relation to each other and become a sequence of random, abstract sounds.

In the next space, on the first floor of the next-door building, five wall-to-floor screens illuminate the otherwise darkened room. Five Angels for the Millennium shows videos, in reverse, of a man diving into a body of water with arms splayed. At one point the figure hangs suspended in the water, illuminated by an ethereal green light, mimicking at a stretch, the crucifixion.

Many will see a spirituality of sorts in these pieces and there is certainly a gentle, low-grade humanism at work, a belief in the universality of the emotions and actions portrayed, and the power to be gained through their depiction. And there is beauty. It is a word bankrupt by over use, but here regains something of its currency.

Until 21 July. Box office: 020 7499 4100