| art & architecture | books & cds | dance | destinations | film | opera
| television | theater | archives
A 25-Year Survey
Still from The Crossing, 1996
Still from The Crossing, 1996
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is presenting an
ambitious 25-year survey of the video art of Bill Viola. The retrospective exhibit
includes fifteen of Violas creations, providing a powerful experience that will be
completely new to most viewers.
An entire floor of
the museum has been subdivided into a series of meandering rooms in which the works are
installed. The museum has avoided adding labels and narrative to the works, with the
effect of encouraging active viewer response and interpretation. The last room does give
background information about the exhibit, but instead of using traditional means, the
curator presents a display of the artists own notes and working drawings.
This approach is
both refreshing and appropriate. Each of these unique works places you in a space where
various video media are the primary sources of light. The large, dark spaces are part of
the experience, focusing attention on the multimedia presentation while still allowing you
to move freely around. If at first the works are jarring or even shocking, you
almost immediately are drawn into the environment, becoming a part of it. The medium
challenges you to pause, observe, and reflect. Some of the videos run for several
hours, so each visitor will see a slightly different version of the presentation.
We think of art as
existing in three dimensions, but video art uses the dimension of time as an integral part
of the medium, adding the welcome challenge of the complexity of a fourth dimension. The
visual and temporal variables of the videos are further punctuated with the aural.
Sounds as disparate as the soft breathing of sleep and the loud clanging of machinery are
juxtaposed, arresting your mind like a meditation bell. The sounds make you notice
the images flickering across the screens and monitors, images in slow motion, trapped in
boxes or projected larger than life. Ordinary images seem more profound, and, of
course, some of the images themselves are extraordinary.
In a work from 1992,
Heaven and Earth, two black and white video tubes face each other, mounted at the
ends of wooden columns. On the upper monitor is a video of the artists mother
on her deathbed. On the lower monitor is a video of his infant son, only a few days
old. The videos reflect into each other, a meditation on birth and death and the
connections between generations.
work, Passage, dates from 1987. A long narrow corridor leads to a small room
where a large video projection fills the entire wall. The videotape is of a childs
birthday party played in slow motion. The smallness of the room forces you uncomfortably
close to the image as you hear the slowed rumbling of the childrens voices. The
exaggerated proportions and slow motion give this room a fascinating, surreal quality.
The spirituality of
Bill Violas work draws inspiration from Christian mysticism, Zen Buddhism, Balinese
and Javanese music, Sufi poetry and many other sources. He uses everyday images and,
by drawing attention to the ordinary, and to neutral states of mind such as sleep or
stillness, he opens inner doors to our own psyches. Using the familiar and modern medium
of video he creates an intimate and moving experience.
- Jerry Becerra
Bill Viola website
The catalogue from the exhibit: Bill Viola (1997), David A. Ross, et. al.
Artists' Video: An International Guide (1992), Lori Zippay
Postmodern Currents: Art and Artists in the Age of Electronic Media
(1996), Margot Lovejoy