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Church On Time

By SIGALIT ZETOUNI

    In 1995 Bill Viola (b. 1951) became the first video artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. His work entitled The Greeting was also exhibited a few years later at the Art Institute in Chicago. Viola created a painterly, mysterious video about the meeting of three women. The trigger, for Viola, was a 16th-century work, entitled Visitation, by Florentine painter Jacopo Carucci also known as Pontormo. Visitation portrayed the Virgin Mary visiting her sister Elizabeth, telling her that she was pregnant. The Greeting is a video image projected onto a screen mounted to the wall of a dark room. The video shows two women, standing outdoors, engaged in a conversation that is interrupted by the arrival of a third woman, who whispers a message in one of the women’s ear, and then the three make introductions and exchange some words. Viola interpreted Pontormo’s painting by focusing on the moment of the encounter. In his video he slows down the 40 seconds into 10 minutes. Viola showed the aspect of time, the moment of greeting and connecting that happens so often among us, using the perception of  old masters’ paintings, and adding the movement of new media.
     San Francisco artist Jim Campbell, who was born in Chicago in 1956, studied Mathematics and Engineering at MIT. Initially, Campbell was interested in filmmaking, but in the mid-1980s he began to explore and create interactive video installations. In recent years his work included intricate lighting rigs, video systems and unusual screens. A pioneer in new media art, Campbell’s work investigates the relationship between perception and movement. By manipulating the speed and resolution of his filmed and captured imagery, Campbell offers the viewer a profound visual impression.
     In Wave Modulation (2003) Campbell took a moving image of ocean waves and gradually slowed it down to a static point. The work incorporates low-resolution and time variation LED and electronics. Although the image turns abstract on the screen, it is not entirely abstract to the viewers who interpret the image through their associative thinking processes. In Library (2004) Campbell combined LED and analog photography. A high-resolution photogravure of the New York Public Library affixed to a sheet of Plexiglas suspended in front of an LED surface. The work communicates the energy of the city street as silhouettes of people walk by the Library and pass through the frame. Through the artist’s manipulation of electronics, the work of art is produced.
     Since 2005, Paris-based new media artist Benjamin Bergery has been creating installation art that is designed for churches. Bergery taught at MIT during the 1980s, and later at USC. With his friend, artist Jim Campbell, Bergery collaborated on a series of media installations, exhibited in the vast historic church of Saint Sulpice, a 17th century landmark in Paris. Bergery and Campbell installed new aesthetic forms in the structure famous for extraordinary Delacroix murals, the grounds where Charles Baudelaire had been baptized and Victor Hugo was married.
     Two of the works exhibited at the church of Saint Sulpice are currently on view in Chicago. From December 4 through January 16, Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) is exhibiting Benjamin Bergery: Epiphanies. The media installation by Benjamin Bergery, along with technology by Jim Campbell, consists of two works based on Gospel stories of the birth of Christ. Light Annunciation employs light rhythms to evoke the angel’s announcing to the Virgin Mary that she is going to give birth to the son of God. Epiphany employs looping low-resolution films to show the story of the Magi bringing their gifts to honor the baby Jesus. The Epiphanies installation is inspired by the Renaissance tradition of storytelling frescos using digital textures informed by a cinematic vocabulary and lighting. The elusiveness of low-resolution images and abstract light stirs the liturgical subject matter, challenging the viewer’s interpretation and conveying the mysteries of the Gospel. Indeed this winter, digital Christmas has come to town!

Published: December 09, 2010
Issue: 2010 Philanthropy Issue