Friday 14 August 2009

Bill Viola's video installations & The Zoo Father

Bill Viola is one of my favourite artists. I have a video by him called The Passing, and when I held Poetry School workshops in my house back in 1998, we all huddled around my small tv to watch it. The students had never seen anything like it before. The video was about his dying mother and even has her last breath, amplified. The first work of his I saw was 'Room for St John of the Cross'. It led me to read St John of the Cross's poems and the writings of St Theresa of Avila – two Spanish mystics.

This is a still from 'Five Angels for the New Millennium'. Another multi-video installation is called 'Ocean Without A Shore.' These remind me of a dream I had before I wrote my second collection The Zoo Father. I dreamt of returning to the base of Angel Falls, into a kind of church (Viola's 'The Messenger' was installed in Durham Cathedral). The spray of the immense falls resembled whirling bridal lace, but gradually I realised there was a gigantic face in the tumbling sprays – my father's. I hadn't seen him for thirty-five years and never expected to hear from him again, but a few days after this dream I received a letter summoning me to visit him in Paris. And that's how I started writing this collection, with the 'zoo' father both in Paris and in the Amazonian Lost World.

Room for St John of the Cross

This is 'The Messenger'. A naked man slowly floats towards the surface of a water wall. His face breaks through the wall and he lets out a long-held breath, takes a deep breath then floats back into the blue-black distance. This had particular resonance for me as my father was dying of emphysema, and could only breathe with the help of supplementary oxygen from an oxygen recycler machine. He found talking hard, yet I wanted him to tell me about his life. I am attempting to write an expanded fiction account of The Zoo Father story in my first novel.