The Russian premiere of Bill Viola's audiovisual project “Déserts” took place at the Pushkin Museum

The Pushkin State Museum and the Soloist Ensemble "Studio of New Music", with the support of Aksenov Family Foundation, presented the Russian premiere of the audiovisual project "Deserts" (1994) by Bill Viola to the music of Edgar Varez. The performance took place in the Main museum building on May 31. The music was conducted by Sergei Akimov.

Bill Viola created the video composition "Déserts" for the screening, accompanied by the live music of the same name by Edgar Varese (1885-1965). The composer, who is one of the main innovators of 20th century experimental music, also intended his musical work to be accompanied by video footage.

Déserts' for me seems to be a magic word indicating a connection with infinity. It means not only “deserts” in the physical sense: sandy or snowy, deserted seas or mountains, deserted space, deserted town streets,  not only a harsh aspect of nature provoking thoughts of sterility, remoteness, timeless existence, but also that distant inner space which cannot be seen through any telescope as the space where man remains face to face with a world of mystery and solitude inseparable from the very essence of his being.
Edgar Varese

However the composer did not manage to realize this synthetic audiovisual project in his lifetime. Nevertheless he left general references to the images, leaving space for the video artist to interpret them.

The soloists of the Frankfurt's Ensemble Modern, performing contemporary music, drew attention to the composer's remarks about the unrealized visual component and suggested that Viola create a visual score for Varese's "Déserts". In October 1994, Viola's video interpretation of "Déserts" premiered in Vienna with live music by Ensemble Modern, conducted by Peter Etwesch.

A notable feature of Varese's musical work "Déserts", which premiered in 1954, are tape-recorded sound collages that interrupt the live music at three points in the score. Bill Viola's visual project reflects this basic structure in the stark contrast between the inner space of a solitary person in a windowless room and the varied scenes of the outside world without people: shimmering desert vistas, undulating underwater landscapes, nighttime streets, the bright glow of a raging fire. Images of emptiness and destruction, created by Viola, do not necessarily mean negation, loss, or ultimate annihilation.  They rather become  transformation conductors that should eventually lead to a deeper self-knowledge. In the end, the clear boundary between inside and outside, solitude and emptiness is blurred through a crescendo of liberation, in the musical score and on film, and the two worlds, isolated above and below the water, merge into one.

The Russian premiere of the synthetic audiovisual project "Deserts" was supported by the museum's longtime partner, the Hennessy Social and Cultural Foundation, and was attended by: Marina Loshak, Director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; Olga Shishko, Head of the Film and Media Art Department of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; Pierre Levy, Ambassador of France to Russia; Hilles Arnault Beshoor Pluch, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Russian Federation; Dmitry Aksenov, Founder of the Aksenov Family Foundation; Ksenia Sobchak and Konstantin Bogomolov; Dasha Veledeeva, Editor-in-Chief of Harper's Bazaar; Vasily Tsereteli, Executive Director of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art; Olga Sviblova, Director of the Multimedia Art Museum; Teresa Mavika, Head of the V-A-C Foundation; Arkady Novikov, restaurateur; Ulvi Kasimov, Sferiq Capital; Emelyan Zakharov, Co-founder of the Triumph Gallery; Irina Sedykh, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the OMK-Participation Charitable Foundation; Alexander Erofeev, Vice President of VTB Bank; Margarita Pushkina, Founding Director of the Cosmoscow International Contemporary Art Fair; Gor Nakhapetyan, Moscow School of Management "Skolkovo"; Ilya Khrzhanovsky, filmmaker; Grigory Sluzhitel, actor, writer; journalists Yulia Vydolob and Anastasia Kamenskaya.

Photo: Dmitriy Shumov


Bill Viola is considered a recognized classic of video art, having stood at its origins in the 1970s and dedicated his entire life to media art.  For over four decades this cult video artist has been creating audio and video installations, films, videos, sound environments as well as media projects accompanying large-scale concert and opera productions.  Viola represented the United States at the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995.  His solo exhibitions have taken place at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1997), the Getty Museum in Los Angeles (2003), the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (2006), the Grand Palais in Paris (2014), Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (2017), the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (2017), the Royal Academy of Arts in London (2019) and the Busan Art Museum in South Korea (2020). Bill Viola's video composition from the Martyrs series was placed in 2014 at St Paul's Cathedral in London as a permanent installation.  As of 2016, the video triptych "Mary" is also located there.

Edgar Varese - French and American composer, conductor, one of the pioneers of electronic and concrete music, "prophet of sound", "skyscraper mystic", electronic pioneer, "adept" of the thermenvox.  Edgar Varese's teachers included such French composers and musicians as Vincent d'Andy, Albert Roussel and Charles Vidor.  However, fundamental for the composer were experiments in physics, the study of mathematics and sound nature.  The composer's triumph was his participation in the Expo '58 world exhibition in Brussels, where his innovative music was heard by millions of visitors at the Philips Pavilion.

The Soloists Ensemble "Studio for New Music" is one of the leadings Russian contemporary music ensembles founded in 1993 at the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory by composer Vladimir Tarnopolsky, conductor Igor Dronov and musicologist Alexander Sokolov. The ensemble's repertoire includes virtually all of the chamber and chamber orchestral music of the 20th and 21st centuries, starting with the early Russian avant-garde and Western modernism. The ensemble has repeatedly been performing together with Ensemble Modern, and has also made music with the Schoenberg Ensemble and Klangforum Wien. The Studio was the first and only Russian ensemble to be invited to the International Summer Course in Contemporary Music in Darmstadt.

Direction "Pushkin's XXI" at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts is a program designed to give the public an insight into contemporary art and its most outstanding artists. It represents the art of the new classics who speak the language of painting, graphics and photography, as well as the language of new forms when video, sound, and performance can be vividly and harmoniously integrated into the traditional museum context. New media, which are often temporary and ephemeral, can nevertheless give a new reading of classic works of art, making them breathe, move and engage in a dialogue with the viewer.
"Pushkin XXI" is a museum within a museum. This direction is based on the combination of educational, research and exhibition activities, which allows showing the evolution of the artistic image created by any means: from traditional to modern.

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