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The Battle of the Martyrs

Staging the battle of the martyrs against the natural elements in a video-polyptych in St Paul's Cathedra and Marzorati Ronchetti developed the artefacts for the support of the work "Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)".

Bill Viola, Martyrs, 2014 , "Earth, Air, Fire, Water"
Color High-Definition video polyptych on four plasma displays.
Executive producer, Kira Perov
Performers: Norman Scott, Sarah Steben, Darrow Igus, John Hay

Wednesday, 25.11.2015
18:45 (Cet)

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Since May 2014, St Paul's Cathedral in London has hosted one of the most recent works by Bill Viola, among the best-known video artists in the world. “Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)” is a polyptych that, on four plasma screens, shows the same number of individuals being martyred by the natural elements. Around seven minutes long, the high definition films are shot in colour, without sound.

“At the start of the work,” says Bill Viola, “the four individuals are shown in stasis, a rest from their suffering. Gradually, each scene acquires movement. Each element of nature begins to disturb their calm. Flames descend, the winds begin to be unleashed, water pelts down and the land is raised. While the elements rage, the determination of every martyr remains undimmed. In their most violent aggression, the elements represent the darkest hour of the passage of the martyrs through death to the light. ”

The work is on long-term loan to the leading museum group, Tate, as part of the "St Paul's Cathedral Arts Project", a programme aimed at bringing together art and faith, which will soon be enriched with another work by Viola, dedicated to Mary.

The staging of the prestigious video installation in the splendid setting of the Cathedral was designed by the renowned architectural practice, Foster + Partners, which, for the permanent exhibition structure, assigned Marzorati Ronchetti.

The definition of all the delicate aesthetic and technical aspects and the creation of the artefacts were carried out in Italy, in the workshops of the world leader in the artistic processing of metal.

The first step was approval, by the artist and the ecclesiastical authorities, of the design concept. For the solemn liturgical space, in fact, a lean design was created,  with dark and opaque colour tones capable of conveying the sensation of an antique object.

The setting is formed by three parts: the lower support, composed of two legs joined to a horizontal support level and two upper panels that each house two screens, all made in carbon steel, chosen for its properties of solidity and hardness.

The thin shapes are obtained by grinding monolithic metal blocks, using a computer numerical control machine, then hand-polished and, finally, assembled with the minimum number of welds. The legs are hollow to allow the passage of power and transmission cables carrying the signals direct to the screens.

The quality of the surface finish was assessed very carefully so that the structure could be placed in the liturgical space without altering it and, at the same time, without dominating the enjoyment of the video polyptych. Notwithstanding the contemporary design, those visiting the cathedral come away with the impression that the structure has always been there.

Once again, Marzorati Ronchetti has stood out for its ability to work alongside leading artists and designers, offering them the sensitivity, skill and expertise that is indispensable in order to operate within one of the main monuments of the Anglo-Saxon world.

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