(from an email to a dear friend)
Today i went to see an individaul exhibition of Bill Viola which I loved soooo much! This is the first time that I saw a solo show of Bill Viola and i was completely stunned by his work ...
A little story: in 2002, i wrote him an email inviting him to go to Hong Kong for an artist-in-residence project for 6 months. Then he replied me not by email but a letter, a hand-written letter posted with a stamp!! I still remember the letter was written in capital letters, begins with "DEAR SELINA" and ends with "YOURS, BILL". I was so touched when I received it though the reply was negative.... unfortunately, i couldn't keep it as a souvenir but had to file it into the documents. Probably now a piece of torn paper.
I knew a bit of his work but never really seen one until in Paris. I was so excited to discover this solo show, which is so unexpected and yet marvellously beautiful !! There are 16 vidoes all together, a correct size for a video show in my opinion. Most of the shows in Paris museums are huge that determined to exhaust the visitors. 16 pieces is really good, on average 15 mins on each video, which is about the right running time of Viola's work, so you spent 3 hours for the visit and able to see almost all the work in complete.
I like in particular The crossing (1996), Catherine's Room (2001), Five Angels for the Millennium (departing angel) (2001), The Greeting (1995), The Veiling (1995) and Ocean without Shore (2007). His video gives audience a total experience (which hits me some much right now since I've been troubled with the word "exhibition" for a while), every single piece is an integration of visual aesthetic, sound, lighting, emotion, vision and imagination, and sometimes even physical movement of the space when the sound goes to a certain high frequency that the wall starts to shake!
Most of them are so emotionally intense yet all the images go so slowly, like taking a break from the reality to chew on the feelings of that particular single moment in life. The low frequency of the sounding system hypnotise the audience, you feel like you are entering into that moment of life, that you hear your own breathing, that you are completely surrounded by the vacuum of the distilled minute. Watching his video is like passing through redemption. He is a very meditative artist who like to explore the issues of life and death, memory and reality, suffrance and internal peace, emotion and detachment, etc. I like the title of the show, "visioni interiori", that's very Bill Viola !
I am not a big fan of video art, but Bill Viola is more than a video artist. He uses new technology to re-interprete the classical visual aesthetics. His images (the composition, the lighting, the colours scheme, the contrast, etc) are direct descendents of the italian renaissance, but the emotion and the attitude are contemporary, despite the fact that they are universal and eternal human predicament. When I stood in front of the five small screens of Catherine's Room, I coudn't take my eyes away from them ! The simple arrangement of the interior of each scene, the careful choice of colour (particularly the window and the fabric), the change of lighting, the slowness and tranquility of the movements... all the banality and confinement become such an immense visual pleasure, and every movement goes directly to the inner world of the personnage, so peaceful. At that moment, I dreamed to have some classical italian beauty and grace to be there in the scenes.
The other work, The Veiling, in which he set up 9 layers of silk screen with appx 30 cm of space in between, double projections from both ends through the silk layers. With the density of 9 layers, the images are perceivable but floating and sometimes nine-folded. It gives you the illusion of watching a 3D movie without the glasses on.
Ocean without Shore was created for the Venice Biennale last year. I haven't see the installation in its original scale. The version they are showing here is a looping of all the videos in the series. It's so powerful in terms of theme and images. It starts with black and white blur images of a person walking slowly towards the fixed camera. There is an invisible water screen in front, the moment when s/he passes the water screen, again everything in slow motion, the water splashes brutally on his/her body and s/he emerges from the water screen to a high-definition colour image, stunned himself as well the audience, he looks bewildered, troubled, excited and refreshed, like a rebirth or 1 minute in heaven. Then s/he truned quietly and passes again the water screen to his/her black and white blur world, sometimes, s/he would look back with nostalgic eyes, then disappears in melancholy. That's so powerful, really taking your breath away. It's the last video in the show and the latest of among the works as well, but the show is not chronological. When you finish a show with a powerful work, you look back with nostalgia too! An important consideration for a curator, I guess ! (Click to see the presentation of Bill Viola on Ocean without Shore)
Obviously, for Viola, the presentation (scenography) of each piece is perceived the moment the video is conceived. I appreciate the idea that artists create work with in mind the idea of showing instead of selling !
Bill Viola - Visioni Interiori / Palazzo delle Esposizioni di Roma / now - 06 January 09