Bill Viola, Fire Woman, 2005. Still images. Image courtesy of Bill Viola Studio
Hailed as the “Rembrandt of the video art” and the “Hi-tech Caravaggio“, Bill Viola is internationally recognized as one of the most important contemporary video artist. His video installations deals with the central themes of fundamental human experiences (such as birth and death) and aspects of consciousness. Obsessed with capturing the essence of emotion through recording of its extreme display, Viola’s art has a deep aesthetic and emotional impact: his works seem to be spiritual exercises that help observers understand the meaning of humankind.
Bill Viola, The Lovers, 2005. Still image. (left) – Bill Viola, Tristan’s Ascension, 2004. Still image. Image courtesy of Bill Viola Studio (right)
His videos are usually structured and based on the number 5 (a revealing number for Viola’s deep interest in oriental mysticism) and orbit five basic elements: life cycle, dark, light, space and sound. Another constant theme is dualism expressed by couple of elements such as life and death, light and dark, stressed and calm, loud and quiet and the idea that you can’t understand what you’re looking at unless you know its opposite. Equally, the subject matter and manner of western medieval and renaissance devotional art have informed his aesthetic.
Bill Viola, Ocean without a Shore, 2007. Still image. Performer: Blake Viola
All his videos are realized with innovative new media: ultra-slow motion techniques, which probe human perception and let the viewer sink into to the image and connect deeply to the meanings contained within it; high definition videos and LCD screens, which exhibits a painterly quality; primordial sounds and spaces which seem naturally connected with the images but are carefully projected.
Bill Viola, Purification, 2005. Still image
Born in 1951 in Queens and graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor in Fine Arts, Viola studied in the Experimental Studios of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. From 1974-1976, Viola worked as technical director at Art/Tapes/22, a pioneering video studio in Florence, Italy where he encountered video artists Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, and Vito Acconci. His early work established his fascination with issues that continue to inform his work today: Viola’s obsession with emotion began at least as early as his 1976 work, “The Space Between the Teeth“, a video of himself screaming, and continues to this day with such works as the 45-second “Silent Mountain” (2001), which shows two actors in states of anguish.
Bill Viola, The Raft, 2004. Still image
Some of his most famous video art projects are: “The Sleepers” (1992), which shows sleeping people black and white screened on the bottom of barrels full of water; “The Quintet Series” (2000), a set of four separate videos that shows the unfolding expressions of five actors in such slow motion that every minute detail of their changing expressions can be detected; an “Ocean without a Shore” (2007), exposed in Church of san Gallo, which explores life and death and shows people, standing in the foreground, that seem to produce gallons of water from themselves as if they were waterfalls (as symbol of rebirth). In “Observance” (2002) the camera is placed at eye level, facing the head of a line of people that slowly advance one by one, in a state of intense and quiet grief. In 2004, Viola started The “Tristan Project“: at the invitation of opera director Peter Sellars, he created video sequences to be shown as a backdrop to the action on stage during the performance of Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde.
Bill Viola’s exhibition profile, which includes the National Gallery, London, Guggenheim Berlin, Guggenheim New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Getty Los Angeles, California, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, marks him as a major contemporary artist.