Bill Viola

Born: 1951, New York
Video Art

Bill Viola was born in the borough of Queens in New York in 1951. One of the world’s most famous video artists, his works are exhibited in such leading museums as the National Gallery in London and the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museums in New York.

A classic of video art, Bill Viola’s most celebrated works are a unique fusion of biblical subjects and new technologies, special effects and sublime emotions. He has turned conservative Christians into fans of modern art. His video The Greeting was acquired by a church as an altar image. Such works as The Crossing and Ocean without a Shore are often exhibited in places of worship. Alternatively, he has provoked semi-religious feelings in those who normally focus solely on visual images.

How does Viola manage to do all this? He addresses such eternal themes as fear, suffering, the transition to another world and abnegation. Taking the subjects of classical paintings, he makes them topical and relevant.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the heroes of religious subjects were attired in the sort of costumes worn by the artist or contemporary viewers. Viola’s biblical heroes are also like us. In The Greeting, when Mary tells Elizabeth the good news that she is expecting a child, both are the sort of women that you would find in any small Italian town. The characters of Ocean without a Shore are the inhabitants of a big city – a portly citizen,emaciatedpierced alternatives, a muscle-bound European, a timid Chinaman. Nevertheless, all of Viola’s characters seem to be the heroes of mysterious and significant events. This effect is achieved by employing two forces, one of which is as old as time and one of which is super-modern – the natural elements and refined video techniques.

For Viola, one of the most important of these elements is water. In Ocean without a Shore, people pass through the waters of the Styx – the mythological river crossed to reach the land of the dead. Here, however, the river is a waterfall – a wall between two worlds. The heroes of the video come through it to say goodbye to us, before disappearing forever in the ocean of oblivion. Death is the ultimate destiny for us all, without exception: something common and, at the same time, something highly personal.

The grandeur of The Greeting is created by the wind. It flaps the women’s scarves and skirts, scattering superfluous words and banal congratulations. A new person is coming into the world: this is the wind of change. The references, however, are not necessarily all religious. Each new person changes the world in his or her own small way, and every birth is a great event.

In order to make the natural elements visible and imposing, and to decelerate the frantic pace of everyday life, Viola employs a specially designed camera, which shoots not twenty-four, but three-hundred frames per second. This allows the artist to slow down the action without detriment to the quality of the image, making each drop of water and every instant precious.

In 2009, Bill Viola contributed to the VIDENIE exhibition of video art at the PERMM (Perm Museum of Contemporary Art), showing his early work The Reflecting Pool. This was a rare opportunity to see the master in his youth. Back then, there were no super cameras or computer montage programmes. Nevertheless, using only simple resources, he succeeded in creating another reality.

In the 1970s, during a period of interest in Zen Buddhism, Viola employed water as a powerful artistic resource. Water also represents a transition to another world, only Buddhism teaches us that this transition is not tragic or inevitable, but something desirable, while demanding great mental efforts and concentration.

In the calm murmur of illusions, the hero of the video embarks on an eccentric feat – a cannonball leap. At first, he momentarily stops in this world, before stopping the world itself. The illusory nature of the world is demonstrated by the fact that there is no reflection in it of he who conceives this world. The latter is also part of the vision, and so gradually disappears.

Random articles