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For The Quintet of the Silent, Bill Viola assembled five actors in a composition that recalls a Renaissance painting. He instructed the performers "to show pressure, tension, and stress in a general arc of emotion as it enters, manifests, and leaves the body." Viola filmed their interpretation of this instruction in one minute in real time, but the final work is stretched over a fifteen-minute continuous loop.
Since Bill Viola became a pioneer of video art in the 1970s, he has often referred to spirituality in his art. During a yearlong residency at the Getty Research Institute in California in 1998, Viola studied the passions in medieval and Renaissance art. Two years later, Viola began a series focusing on extremes of human emotion that included The Quintet of the Silent. This work is presented without sound, isolating the nuanced progression of facial expressions within a wave of emotional intensity.