Video art was first introduced in the early 1960s by such pioneers as Nam June Paik and Bruce Nauman and continues to be a vital form of contemporary artistic expression. Since the early 1970s, it has been Bill Viola’s primary medium and today he is considered one of America’s preeminent video artists. His dialogue with art history evolved during the 1990s in a series of videos that make reference to the narratives, human figures, and portraits in well-known works of art. The Quintet of Remembrance is one of four videos created between 2000 and 2001 that were inspired by the artist’s study of late medieval and early Renaissance Italian and Flemish paintings and their iconography. In each, a group of five people undergo a range of emotions while the camera records every nuance of their physical reaction.
Here, Viola specifically references Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Thorns) (ca. 1490–1500, National Gallery, London), Andrea Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magi (1495–1505, Getty Museum, Los Angeles), and Dieric Bouts’ Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowing Madonna) (1470–75, Art Institute of Chicago). Bosch’s painting acts as the visual template for the composition of this work and the strong emotions conveyed by the five people that vacillate between compassion, shock, grief, anger, fear, and rapture. Although they share a close physical space, each person is fully absorbed in his or her own emotional experience. Shot with high-speed 35-mm film, the actors’ performance, which lasted approximately sixty seconds, is extended in the finished video to a little over sixteen minutes, accentuating the power and depth of each emotion.