Bill Viola Selected Work 1977-2014

【Academic】Talking About Bill Viola And His Works

Speaker: Kira Perov / Wang Minan

Host: David Elliott


Date:2017.09.23 14:30

Venue:Hall 1 Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art (RMCA)


1979.Driving through the bleak landscape of Tunisia, distance is relative to the endless horizon and vision seems to be blurred as we try to focus on any point in front of us.  We stop at a stark white dry salt lake and look through the binoculars. Yes, those are people in the heat waves, so we unload the tripod, camera, telephoto lens, and recorder and train our super-human surrogate eye on the far away scene. In the viewfinder dark forms are shimmering and dancing, barely human, their elongated figures like Giacometti sculptures. [Chott el-Djerid (A Portrait in Light and Heat)]


2004.In a huge studio in Downey, Los Angeles, high over a stage surrounded by a pool, is a device that looks like a large shower. Once the deluge of water starts raining from the ring, a man shoots out from it feet first, lowered quickly by a wire attached to a harness on his body.  He finds his place perfectly on the platform below, settles, and lies down very still. We watch on the monitors as the take is played back in reverse so that the man who was lying still is rising as if from death, enveloped within the water that is mysteriously also ascending.  [Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall)]

The following week the pool has a 10-meter high wall of flames for a backdrop and the camera is placed at the other end, pointing at the surface of the large body of water.  When a shrouded woman walks on a platform toward the camera and falls, arms outstretched, into the water, we realize that she has fallen into her own reflection. The image of the flames behind her is also shattered and the water and the fire become one. [Fire Woman]


1979.Upstate New York. We gather materials, an old table, a cup and saucer, a teapot, a clock, and a chair. In an abandoned shallow quarry, we set up the table and place the objects on it one by one. After a series of other recorded actions, the table is burned until it is reduced to ashes. This whole scene is played back in reverse, and the table and objects are miraculously brought back to life. [Ancient of Days]


2001.Two screens are placed vertically one on top of another, a man in one and a woman in another, both seen from the waist up, but the bottom image is upside down. They bend toward each other, prostrating themselves slowly in an action that is full of grief and sorrow. As their image becomes more fractured and distorted with each prostration,they become an abstraction of moving color and we realize we have been looking at a reflection in each screen. [Surrender]


1983.Fiji. We travel to a remote island in the South Pacific to record the ritual purification and fire walking ceremony observed by Hindus from Southern India to worship the goddess Maha Devi. For ten days the repeated bloodless puncturing of skin with silver skewers, turmeric cleansings, mesmerizing trance music, little camphor boats of fire on the water - and the walking on hot coals, take us to a place that seems not of this world. [I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like]


2000.Our studio in Signal Hill near Long Beach. On a set that looks like a commercial photographer’s studio complete with backdrop, five performers are preparing for a take with high-speed 35 mm film. The special camera can record 300 frames per second and with that comes a fluidity of slow motion that video cannot record. The final piece will be 15 minutes long. Each performer is to go through an arc of an intense emotion, joy, anger, sadness, grief, but within the space of 60 seconds. The 300 frames per second slowed down 16 times serves to stretch the image until there is barely any movement at all. The emotions are preserved in all their intensity, and the high definition of the film portrays their faces in extreme detail. [The Quintet of the Astonished]


2004.In preparation for a new commission for the arts program of the Athens Olympic Games, we rent a large sound stage, bring in a water truck, and hire six stunt actors. In total we assemble nineteen people from various ethnic backgrounds, of different ages and gender. As they stand and wait, they are suddenly deluged by strong jets of water. This violence takes on a mesmerizing beauty of its own as the scene, recorded with a high-speed 35 mm camera, is slowed down to highlight the sprays of water and the emotional responses of the people as they are attacked. The water stops as suddenly as it began and people are left to comfort each other, not knowing why or when the next assault will begin. [The Raft]

The camera records reality, the artist makes the invisible visible.