A pioneering artist who has worked with video and sound art since the 1970s, Bill Viola examines the constituents of human existence, from birth and death to experiences of the subliminal and spiritual.Read More
The groundwork for Viola's long career as a video and sound artist was laid at Syracuse University, New York, where he studied visual art under Jack Nelson and electronic music under Franklin Morris, graduating with a BFA in 1973. From 1973 he began performing with experimental composer and pianist David Tudor in Tudor's Rainforest ensemble, later known as Composers Inside Electronics.
In 1974, Bill Viola lived for a year and a half in Florence, working as a technical director for the video art studio Art/Tapes/22. Two years later, he was approached by Kira Perov—then director of cultural activities for La Trobe University in Melbourne—to show his works. Viola and Perov later married, and began collaborating and travelling together.
In 1981, Viola produced Hatsu-Yume: a single-channel video that reflects his contemplations of Japan—where he had travelled on a U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Fellowship—and Japanese culture, as well as his interest in light's role in relation to water and life. The influence of Japanese art is also visible in early sound compositions by Viola, such as Hornpipes (1979–1982) and The Talking Drum (1982), both of which integrate electronic music and traditional instrumental Japanese music.
At the core of Viola's practice is a concern with human existence, often presented using slow motion and sounds that engage the viewer's senses. In The Crossing (1996), for example, the artist employs a two-sided screen to show a man being slowly drenched in water on one side, and in fire on the other, expressing the duality of creation and destruction. The ever-repeating cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is the subject of Going Forth By Day (2002): an installation consisting of five wall-projections.
Viola continues to pioneer new technologies, expanding his presence in the realm of video art. In 2007, he began developing The Night Journey, one of the first experimental art games. It traces a journey to enlightenment, featuring texts inspired by the writings of philosophers of various faiths. After being presented at such group shows as New Gameplay, Nam June Paik Art Center, Seoul (2016), and ZKM_Gameplay, Goethe-Institut South Africa, Johannesburg (2015), the game was released for home players in 2018.
Over the course of his career, Viola has been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions. Notable presentations include Bill Viola: A 25-Year Survey: a travelling exhibition organised by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1997; Bill Viola: Electronic Renaissance at Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence (2017), which brought together the artists' works from the 1970s to the present; and Bill Viola: A Retrospective at Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, in 2017.
Mirrors of the Unseen, La Pedrera, Barcelona (2020); Bill Viola | Michelangelo, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2019); Life After Death, Stavanger Art Museum, Norway (2018); Bill Viola: Selected Work 1977–2014, Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art, Guangzhou (2017); Bill Viola and the Moving Portrait, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. (2016); Bill Viola, Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2015).
Shadow catchers, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2020); The Bangkok Art Biennale, Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (2020); The Mesh, chi K11 art museum, Shanghai (2019); Organic Body—Fragile Body, Venice International Performance Art Week 2016, Palazzo Mora; 21st Century: Design after Design, XXI International Exhibition, Triennale di Milano, Milan (2016).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020