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Bill Viola

Artist in Profile (Oct ’14): Bill Viola

Bill Viola

Bill Viola

Photo by Jean-Baptiste LABRUNE a.k.a. jeanbaptisteparis [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Bill Viola was born in 1951 and grew up in Westbury, New York and Queens, New York. He almost drowned on a family holiday in a lake describing the experience as “the most beautiful world I’ve seen in my life”. He further described the experience as “without fear” and “peaceful”.

Whether this experience affected his future life and view of the world is unknown although his work may suggest there is some influence. Viola studied at Syracuse University and received a BFA. He studied visual art and electronic music then proceeded to travel widely living in Florence for 18 months before travelling to Indonesia where he studied the traditional performance arts in Java and Bali. He further travelled to Japan and the Solomon Islands to study. He married cultural arts director Kira Perov who he met while exhibiting at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Thereafter the couple collaborated on many works.

Viola (b. 1951) is an internationally recognised artist. He was instrumental in establishing video as a major contemporary art form. His work has assisted in the widening of scope in terms of content, technology and historic reach. He has over the course of 40 years been the creator of video films, electronic music, architectural video installations, sound environments, as well as creating works for television, opera, broadcast, concerts, and sacred spaces.

Viola’s work can arbitrarily be divided into three different types; visual, conceptual and a unique hybrid of the two. Critics on the whole regard Viola’s work as memorable and impressive while others regard some works as forgettable. Nevertheless works such as “The Crossing” (right) and “The Veiling” are widely acclaimed.

There is a painter’s quality to Viola’s work and use of ultra-slow motion guides to the viewer to sink deeper into the image and make a connection. This makes his work unusually interactive within the context of contemporary art. His early work defines his fascination with topics that continue to seep into today’s works. Viola has an obsession with capturing emotional essence recording extreme displays. A good example is “Silent Mountain” (right).

The video installations of Viola are total environments that embrace viewers in sound and image. Despite state of the art technology, the delivery is precise and simple. Museums and art galleries worldwide contain some of Viola’s most distinguished pieces.

The media he uses mean his videotapes are broadcast widely and further to this, his writing has been published and translated for the international markets.

Viola’s use of video explores a journey to self-knowledge. His work is focussed on human experience including death, birth and the unfolding of the conscious mind. The works have roots in both eastern and western art along with spiritual tradition encompassing the mysticism of Christianity to Islamic Sufism and Zen Buddhism.

The travels of Viola and his wife Perov led them to record mirages in the Sahara Desert, to Japan where they studied Zen Buddhism before settling in Long Beach working on projects that created artwork with the basis in the technology of medical imaging of the human body. Other projects included one at San Diego Zoo of animal consciousness and ritual fire walking by Fijian based Hindus.

Music has always been integral to the life and work of Viola and performed regularly with the avant garde “Rainforest Ensemble” (above, right), later called “Composers inside Electronics”. Viola’s collaboration on the opera “Tristan und Isolde” (right) was received to wide acclaim with the world premiere at the Opera National de Paris.

Bill Viola has received numerous awards and honorary degrees such is the impact of his work. Through the realm of multimedia his work is available for everyone to see.

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