PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Subha Mukherji Dying and Living with De la Mare Carl Phillips Fall Colors and other poems Alex Wylie The Bureaucratic Sublime: on the secret joys of contemporary poetry Marilyn Hacker Montpeyroux Sonnets David Herman Memories of Raymond Williams
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue

This article is taken from PN Review 248, Volume 45 Number 6, July - August 2019.

Almost Drowning
Bill Viola / Michelangelo: Life, Death, Rebirth, the Royal Academy, 26 January – 31 March 2019
Helen Tookey
In Viola’s work, water recurs as a metaphor for life and being, for transition between states and for transcendence. As a child the artist almost drowned, an experience he would later recall as ‘blissful’, marked by a beautiful intensity that was streaked with rays of light.

Almost a casual statement, coming as it does in the very last paragraph of the text in the exhibition flyer. But it makes absolute sense of everything, in a new way – the entire body of work the exploration of this experience.

As a child the artist almost drowned. In Dreamers, the most compelling dreamer is the child. The young girl, her eyes closed, her arms peacefully at her sides, her brown-gold hair floating out in clouds around her head, like pale gold waterweed. All the other dreamers are adults. She is the only child, it seems that she has accepted before her time this strange calm underwater sleep, and we want to know what it is she is dreaming.

Strangely, I had seen Viola’s dreamers – or something very like them – inside an actual dream of my own, before I had encountered his work. I transcribed the dream-scene:

She brings you to the ponds, where the people are lying calmly under the water. They are women, children, men – whole families. […]
Looking up through the water and the starry weeds, they must see a green world. A floating arch, studded with brilliant stars that waver in their green sky. […]
When it ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image