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Bill Viola: Anthem (1983)

December 1, 2009
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The Anthem, in Israeli religion, is a chorus sung, repetitively, between each verse of a psalm.

The piece centers on a single piercing scream and on the extension of this scream by a little girl eleven years old under the engine shed at Union Railroad Station in Los Angeles. This initial cry, which only lasts a few seconds, is prolonged in time and its frequency is profoundly transformed and multiplied by the use of slow motion. This spasm of sound is the invisible container of a stretched-out time and space, a universal breath. Thus, although the picture shows the little girl to be the source of the sound, the shriek extends well beyond the contours established by her body, spreading and flowing like a dark fluid, and mingles with all the sirens in the town, with every shout and with the noises of the rising irrepressibly from below. These are mnesic images, “all centered on the theme of primitive fear of the dark, materialism and the harmful separation of body and mind” (Bill Viola).

In a violent dialectic movement, the child’s cry reflects the rumbling of the town, the flaming factory chimneys, a surgical operation, a torn living body from which flesh is being removed, revealing the heart beating vigorously. This cry, which functions as an eyes, crystallizes and dismembers the flesh of the image, removing it to a terrifying twilight world.

Thanks to — U B U W E B

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