BILL VIOLA – MAJOR PROJECT CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH

Born January 1951, New York.

As a video artist, Viola is recognised for his religious imagery and themes of birth/death, emotion and spirituality.

Bill Viola’s work can be directly linked back to an experience from his childhood. On a family holiday, Viola almost drowned in a lake. Although this may seem traumatic, Viola describes the experience as peaceful and it being “the most beautiful world I’ve ever seen in my life.” He recalls having no fear. It is evident that this had a huge impact on his work as he often uses films of water, whether that be the model looking like they are drowning/sinking, coming to the surface, or being splashed by a wave.

Viola’s work often debuts a sole model immersed in water. Their movement in minimal, creating an oxymoron of peacefulness and unease. The ripples, splashes and bubbles surround the subject as they are submerged.

‘Ascension’ (2000)

Viola uses sound in an nontraditional way. Introduced to him by his uncle when he was younger, Viola talks of this constant every day sound which absorbs all other sounds. When watching his videos, it feels as though you are submerged under water with all of these sounds happening outside of your perception. You can hear the muffled audio, yet can’t make out anything specific. It may appear as though there is no audio in his videos, yet this is a crucial part to his work. This sound is also often emphasised through movement, as if you have just jumped underneath the water.

When watching his videos, I relate the sound to being in a state of anxiety or dissociation. This experience is more commonly recognisable as used in films when the character is told bad news – their thoughts of trying to understand the situation cloud the outer world, and they lose a sense of what is going on in their surroundings.

Location is also vital in Bill Viola’s work – demonstrated in the piece ‘Ocean Without a Shore’ (2007). This work was presented in San Gallo, a church in Italy, and consists of three screen playing videos in their own respective space, appearing almost like an alter. When describing the significance of the location, Viola has said “These alters are where the dead reside and connect with the living here on Earth.” – This piece is represents life and death, and by using a divine location such as a church, Viola is referencing the spiritual beliefs held in religion concerning life and death.

‘Ocean Without a Shore’ (2007)

Viola’s work often uses religious imagery. For example, in the series ‘Martyrs’ from 2004, Viola combines the four elements with religious symbolism through the models body language and props. This is clearly seen in the water video on the far right as the model is hanging with his arms stretch either side of him – making him look like Jesus on the cross. The woman hanging onto the rope is all in white, suggesting purity or holiness. These videos could also represent the belief of heaven and hell – implied by the man sitting engulfed in flames staring forward.

One piece which relates to Viola’s work is John Cage’s ‘4 ’33” ‘ , composed in 1952. This work shows a full orchestra, set up ready to play. However, the orchestra does not actually play anything as they sit for these 4 and a half minutes in silence. This relates to Viola’s use (or lack thereof) of audio in his video work. It creates a sense of imagination as the viewer/audience is left to listen to the surrounding sounds of the world, or can imagine their own sound.

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