Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Bill Viola - Selected Works
1, 2. The Sleep of Reason - Installation view with the artist, 1988.
On a wooden chest in a large empty room, a black and white monitor shows a close-up view of a person sleeping. His night sounds are softly heard. A vase with white roses, a small lamp, and a digital clock are also on the chest tabletop. The floor of the room is carpeted and the space illuminated. Suddenly, the lights cut out and the room is plunged into total darkness. Large color moving images are seen covering three of the walls and a loud disturbing sound of moaning and roaring fills the space. Just as suddenly, the lights come back on and the room returns to normal. It is as if a momentary glimpse to another, parallel world has appeared, the dark underside of a familiar well-lit environment. The blackouts occur at random periods, behaving like unpredictable "image seizures" from some incurable schizophrenic affliction of the room. Lasting only seconds, they can occur from several seconds to several minutes apart, impossible to anticipate. The three projections of imagery on the walls are from a single videotape. Images include fires burning out of control throughcity buildings, fierce attack dogs spotlit and lunging at the camera, wild movement through a forest at night, moving X-rays of human beings and animals, and a provoked owl flying into the camera lens.
3, 4. I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like, 1986.
"I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like" is a personal investigation of the inner states and connections to animal consciousness we all carry within. The work is in five parts and functions like a map rather than a description of the animal psyche. Images of animals mediate a progression from an initial stage of non—differentiation (pure being), proceeding through stages of the rational and the physical orders, finally arriving at a state beyond logic and the laws of physics.
5. He Weeps for You, 1976.
In a large, darkened space, a copper pipe runs down from the ceiling, terminating in a small valve from which a single drop of water is slowly emerging. A color video camera, fitted with a special lens and a bellows attachment used for extreme close—up magnification, is focused on this drop. The camera is connected to a video projector that displays the swelling drop of water on a large screen at the rear of the space. The optical properties of the water drop cause it to act like a fish-eye lens, revealing an image of a room and those within it. The drop grows in size gradually, swelling in surface tension, until it fills the screen. Suddenly it falls out of the picture and a loud, resonant "boom" is heard as it lands on an amplified drum. Then, in an endless cycle of repetition, a new drop begins to emerge and again fill the screen. The piece makes reference to the traditional philosophy or belief that everything on the higher order of existence reflects, and is contained in, the manifestation and operation of the lower orders. This idea has been expressed in ancient religious terms as the symbolic correspondence of the mundane (the earth) and the divine (the heavens), and is also represented in theories of contemporary physics which describe how each particle of matter in space contains knowledge of or information about the entire system.
6. The Passing, 1991.
This work is a personal response to the spiritual extremes of a birth and death in the family. Utilizing black and white nocturnal imagery and underwater scenes, it depicts a twilight world on the borders of human perception and consciousness, where the multiple lives of the mind (memory, reality and fantasy) merge.
7. Room for St. John of the Cross, 1983.
A small black cubicle (180 >< 150 >< 170 cm) stands in the center of a large dark room. There is a small open window in the front face of the cubicle where a soft glow of incandescent light emerges. Behind the cubicle on the back wall of the space, a large screen shows a projected black and white video image of snow-covered mountains. Shot with an unstable hand-held camera, the mountainsmove in wild, jittery patterns. Aloud roaring sound of wind and white noise saturate the room from two loudspeakers. The interior of the cubicle is inaccessible and can be viewed only through the window. The inner walls are white. The floor is covered with brown dirt. There is a small wooden table in the corner with a metal water pitcher, a glass of water, and a 4-inch color monitor. On the monitor is a color image of a snow-covered mountain. Shot with a fixed camera, it is presented in real time with no editing. The only visible movement is caused by an occasional wind blowing through the trees and bushes. From within the cubicle, the sound of a voice softly reciting St. John's poems in Spanish is barely audible above the roaring of the wind in the room. The Spanish poet and mystic St. John of the Cross (1542-91) was kept prisoner by the religious establishment for nine months in 1577. His cell had no windows and he was unable to stand upright. He was frequently tortured. During this period St. John wrote most of the poems for which he is known. His poems often speak of love, ecstasy, passage through the dark night, and flying overcity walls and mountains.
8. The Theater of Memory, 1985.
A large tree with roots exposed and bare branches leans diagonally across the room from the floor at the entrance to the far corner at the ceiling. Fifty small lanterns are hung on its branches. Up on the rear wall is a large video—projected image. The picture is dominated by electronic noise and static patterns. Recognizable images are seen trying to break through, but they never come in clearly. Bursts of static and noise come through the speakers, as if a loud clear sound were about to come on, but never does. There are long silences between the bursts of noise. The only light in the room comes from the flickering lanterns and the violent flashing of the video image. The only continuous sound in the room is that of a small wind chime on the tree being blown by a tiny fan concealed in the tree branches. I remember reading about the brain and the central nervous system, trying to understand what causes the triggering of nerve firings that recreate patterns of past sensations, finally evoking a memory. I came across the fact that all of the neurons in the brain are physically disconnected from each other, and begin and end in a tiny gap of empty space. The flickering pattern evoked by the tiny sparks of thought bridging these gaps becomes the actual form and substance of our ideas. All our thoughts have at their center this small point of nothingness.
Texts by Bill Viola.
Photos: Kira Perov.