Hidden space under Norwich’s war memorial gardens is transformed into exhibition space for Bill Viola installation

A hidden vault underneath Norwich's war memorial gardens has been transformed into an unlikely gallery space exhibiting the work of one of the world's most celebrated video artists.

From Saturday, people will be able to venture into what feels like a secret space behind Norwich Market and experience an installation by American artist Bill Viola.

The installation at the Undercroft is part of the three-venue exhibition – Bill Viola: Submerged Spaces – which is being brought to Norwich thanks to a partnership between the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

It will be the first time the world-renowned artist has exhibited work in East Anglia, and Calvin Winner, head of collections at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, said it was a real coup for the city.

'This is a really exciting project. Bill Viola is a legend.

'He is someone at the top of his game who has the pick of where he can exhibit his work,' he said.

The installation in the Undercroft – called The Quintet of the Unseen – is being presented in a specially created viewing room and features a film of five people experiencing different emotions.

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Mr Winner said: 'In the broadest possible terms, Bill Viola's work is very much about the essence of existence – life, death and the big questions about what it means to human, conscious and alive.

'He is very much inspired by religious art, and looks deep into universal human emotions.

'This particular piece (The Quintet of the Unseen) is a meditation on human emotional responses.

'What appears to be a still image at first is actually film that runs for about 20 minutes.

'At first the people's expressions seem to be quite placid and then they move to a more emotional state and seem to be undergoing some kind of a revelation. You become completely transfixed by it.'

He said the space in which the work is presented was very important.

Regarding the Undercroft, he said: 'For most people they will be surprised this space even exists and that in itself will be a delight – people always like to enter spaces they are not normally allowed to go.'

He added: 'With Submerged Spaces we are trying to demonstrate the immersive nature of the works.

'The works take you somewhere and you quickly forget everything else and just focus on the work itself. That is an important part of Bill Viola's work. It is a film presentation but it also about the environment – the space is very important to the work.'

The Crypt of the Carnary Chapel at Norwich School is also hosting one of Mr Viola's works – Visitation – and the Lower Gallery of the Sainsbury Centre, at the University of East Anglia, will be dedicated to four of his works – Four Hands, Catherine's Room, Surrender and Ascension.

Mr Winner said the city-wide exhibition was an excellent way of taking the Sainsbury Centre out on the road, and specifically said if the exhibition in the Undercroft was successful that the centre would look at exhibiting other work there in the future.

He said: 'We are keen to make this link with the centre of the city as a way of engaging new audiences.

'If this proves to be successful we would like to use it again as a flexible exhibition space.'

From Saturday until July 29 all of the Submerged Spaces exhibition venues are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am until 5pm. Tickets for the whole exhibition cost �6 (�4 concessions) and people can visit the different sites on different days with the same ticket. Tickets can be bought at Norwich Theatre Royal and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, and with cash only at the other exhibition sites.

The Norfolk and Norwich Festival is from May 11 until 26. For more information visit the festival website www.nnfestival.org.uk

Are you involved in a new arts project in Norwich? Call reporter Emma Knights on 01603 772428 or email emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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