A psychologically powerful video depicting strangers facing an unexpected disaster opened at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
on Jan. 21. Bill Violas The Raft (2004) is approximately 10 minutes long and explores themes of tragedy, survival and transformation.
In the video, a group of men and women from various ethnic and economic backgrounds gather as if waiting for a train or bus to arrive. As is characteristic of urban settings, each individual maintains a psychological distance. Suddenly the group is struck by a massive onslaught of water. People huddle and struggle and succumb to the explosive force of the water. Will they survive? Will they be transformed?
Then, as suddenly as it arrived, the deluge subsides and people begin to regain their composure. As they do, they reach out to others, comforting them. Seen in extreme slow motion, movements and facial expressions are intensified.
Like all of Violas internationally renowned work, The Raft resonates with universal ideas about the human spirit, life and death, said Leesa Fanning, associate curator, Modern & Contemporary Art. Viola would like his art to be transformative. His use of slow motion allows viewers to focus on the emotions and expressions of each individual. The Raft captures the complexity of human feeling.
Emotions expressed range from boredom, disinterest, curiosity to disapproval and then surprise, fear, recovery, compassion and even love. The Raft serves as a metaphor for our times. Viola said that his work is for cultivating knowledge of how to be in the world
for developing a deeper understanding.