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Bill Viola: Life, Death, and Everything in Between
July 15, 2008

From Bill Viola's The Passing

Bill Viola; The Passing; 1991; In memory of Wynne Lee Viola; Videotape, black-and-white, mono sound; 54 minutes Photo: Kira Perov

Bill Viola's The Passing is fifty-four minutes of visual comment on the themes of birth, life, and death. At times the grainy greys of this 1991 video make us feel like we're watching a sonogram. And in a way, we are. This is the work Viola made when he was forty, smack between his mother's last years and the birth of his son.

The video is filled with images of water that contrast with stark, moody, desert landscapes. Viola appears as a restless sleeper as well as a man underwater. Here, the artist finds himself literally in his depths, until he bursts through the surface for air.

At the start of the screening I was caught up with the soundtrack—the heavy, labored breathing of his dying mother. As I sat in the audience, I found my own breathing trying to fall in sync with that of his mother. It was unsettling at first, but then I too, found my own rhythm.

Bill Viola and Stan Brakhage are part of the summer film series at SAAM called Visionaries of the Avant-Garde. Brakhage's work will be featured later this month, while Viola's First Dream will be shown on August 14. And as we head into the fall, Bill Viola will be the first speaker on for the 2008 Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture Series on September 10.

During the course of the summer we'll be following the Media Arts Program at SAAM, and will be blogging more on both Stan Brakhage and Bill Viola.

Posted by Howard on July 15, 2008 in Lectures on American Art


I just heard Bill Viola at the Whitney's Annenberg Annual Lecture and no one left and no one coughed through the near 2-hour speech and interview. His drawing from world religious thought as opposed to letter, of course, is inspirational. Humbly he says, "I'm just a vessel for these ideas." He isn't sure from where they come but readily accepts them for his art. His "It only takes an instant for an impression to become a vision," is profound. No wonder Bill Viola's video art is so uniquely outstanding!

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