'The Raft' puts viewers in center of crisis

Bill Viola’s video installation “The Raft” immerses viewers in a moment of crisis. They stand in a darkened room and are surrounded by sound as a life-sized video depicts a group of people suddenly struck by strong blasts of water that overtake them and then, just as unexpectedly, recede. The victims huddle together, seek protection and help those who have fallen. How would you react?

MANCHESTER — The hope is that a powerful video installation, “Bill Viola: The Raft,” overwhelms visitors to the Currier Museum of Art.

It depicts, in life-sized scale, a group of ordinary people casually standing together. Suddenly, they are struck by strong blasts of water that rush in, overtake them, and then, just as unexpectedly, recede. The victims huddle together, seek protection and try to help those who have fallen.

The viewer experiences this with great immediacy, standing in a darkened room and surrounded by the roaring sounds of the water. Meticulously captured in slow-motion, “The Raft” arouses a visceral experience of human calamity and shared humanity, provoking a consideration of the range of responses to crisis.

“The Raft,” which was created for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, will be on view at the Currier Museum through Sept. 8. The extended stay at the Ash Street museum is the first stop on a new national tour organized by the American Federation of Arts and Bill Viola Studio.

“The Raft” considers the range of human response to crisis. The stirring imagery is meant to provoke moral and spiritual questions. How would one react to such an overwhelming event? How responsible are we for one another? Should we stand alone or help those in need?

“This remarkable video resonates with many issues facing contemporary society,” said Samantha Cataldo, curator of contemporary art at the Currier. Viola has said that in this world of unstable and often unseen powers, an attack can come at any time for seemingly no reason. For Viola, it is important that everyone in “The Raft” survives, as examples of the resilience of humanity.

“The Raft” recalls historic works, in particular, Théodore Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa” (1818-19), a monumental Romantic painting of survivors of a shipwreck. The arrangement of figures in Viola’s video also relates to the friezes of ancient Greek and Roman art.

Viola, who was born in Queens, N.Y., in 1951, is a major figure in the development of video and installation art. For over four decades, Viola has created video work, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, and works for television broadcast. Viola has exhibited widely, with solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Grand Palais, Paris, and has represented the United States at the Venice Biennale.

The Raft is part of ArtRoom, an ongoing series of contemporary art installations organized by the AFA.

For more information, visit currier.org or call 669-6144.