Bill Viola

One of my first real engagements with Video Art was the Bill Viola retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art, and it was a transformative experience for me. In the dark galleries, Viola transforms time and space through unique combinations of projected videos. A video river runs through one room through a series of mesh screens, while a man burns- and is simultaneously flooded on an opposite screen in another. The sound for both is the same, and works equally well with each image.

The tragedy of Viola's work is that it is impossible to adequately share in the classroom. You have to be in the environment that he creates. However, to give students a sense of his work, The Reflecting Pool is one of my favorites:


  1. lilliodillo said...
    I love the mysteries Viola creates!
    Sadly, I found that even in the museum, some learners are unwilling to engage with video pieces that aren't overtly narrative. I'm thinking of a recent exhibition that showcased Ant Farm's Media Burn across the hall from Lothar Baumgarten's I like it here better than in Westphalia. Many people would watch the Ant Farm video in its entirety, while the quiet Baumgarten piece would rarely hold the viewer more than a few seconds. To drive the point home, the Dallas Museum of Art premiered British artist Phil Collins’ completed three-part video installation The World Won’t Listen. Filmed in Colombia, Turkey, and Indonesia, the video trilogy featured fans of the influential British indie-rock band The Smiths performing karaoke versions of tracks from their 1987 compilation album The World Won’t Listen. This huge installation held viewers transfixed for a half of an hour or more, based on my observations of the show. The funny thing was, unlike Viola's work, this show didn't prompt the same critical and philosophical dialog from viewers. While Viola's work may not be something to dance to, it certainly generates thoughtful discussions. I am fascinated at the differences in video artists' creations of alternate realities such as Viola's work and how that contrasts to the artistic manipulation of our TV/Pavlovian training in the use of spectacle. The outcomes from these viewing experiences are such contrasts, yet they both make a kind of impact that still images can not accomplish.
    David said...
    Great points, lillio- I wonder though if its because they're non-narrative or because that is how people in general engage with art. In many ways, some of Viola's work - or other video artists are closer in concept to a painting than a typical hollywood film. How long does does one stand in front of a still life compared to how long one watches a work of video art which each demand different amounts of time to engage- versus a how much time you watch a narrative film. I think you're right though- video art achieves a level of engagement that would be impossible with traditional media. However, sometimes I wonder if that interpretation is a sad commentary on having grown up as a Generation X'er.

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