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St Paul’s Cathedral hosts Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), the first of two large-scale permanent video installations created by internationally acclaimed artist Bill Viola.
The installation is the first moving-image artwork to be installed in a British cathedral or church on a long-term basis.
Created by Bill Viola and Kira Perov and opened in May 2014, Martyrs shows four individuals, across four colour vertical plasma screens, being martyred by the four classical elements.
As the work opens, four individuals are shown in stasis, a pause from their suffering. Gradually there is movement in each scene as an element of nature begins to disturb their stillness. Flames rain down, winds begin to lash, water cascades, and earth flies up. As the elements rage, each martyr’s resolve remains unchanged. In their most violent assault, the elements represent the darkest hour of the martyr’s passage through death into the light.
The work has no sound. It lasts for seven minutes.
Martyrs will be joined in 2015 by a second piece entitled Mary, which the artist has conceived as a companion work. The installations have been gifted to Tate, and are on long-term loan to St Paul’s Cathedral.