By Ernest Disney-Britton
|Bill Viola's "Tristan’s Ascension" (2005)|
Q1: Your work deals with some of the central themes of human consciousness and experience – birth, death, love, emotion and spirituality. How has it evolved over the years? Would you say your themes and interests have remained consistent? Has your viewpoint developed as you’ve garnered more personal experience, both of life and of art-making?
Bill Viola: I first used the camera and lens as a surrogate eye, to bring things closer, or to magnify them, to experiment with perception, to extend vision and make lengthy observations of simple objects. Once you do that, their essence becomes visible. So I suppose I was always interested in the inner life of the world around me.
Bill Viola: No, I am not interested in the iPad as a tool for my own art, but why not? Beautiful creations have been made with a twig and pigment. The development of the technologies of the moving image has been important for me as it broadened my palette and stimulated new work. When flat-panel screens were invented, for example, I felt liberated from the box of a TV screen, and also from the projector. I explored human emotions in the form of portraits – portraits that I could hang on the wall, or place on a shelf. What comes with today’s overwhelming glut of the moving image is that we cannot escape it. Now it is on billboards as you drive on the freeway.
Bill Viola: My mother was Episcopalian and even though I went to Sunday school, I was not really brought up in a strongly Christian home. I do not follow any particular faith, but like to meditate and believe in peace and compassion.
Bill Viola: I saw the most beautiful watery world and did not want to leave. I did not realise it at first, but I think this experience was seminal in creating pieces like Five Angels for the Millennium (2001) and Ascension (2000).
Bill Viola: I have worked with fire and water for a long time. The two seem to be opposites, but in fact are quite similar. Both can represent destruction or purification, life or liberation. Both are fluid and fascinating: they can be gentle and life-giving, or terrifying and violent. We only began working with air and earth for the work in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) (2014) and it was not easy to develop the right action for air and earth. We had to strip everything down to the barest essentials and made each element a protagonist.
Bill Viola: Water is the sustainer of life, it is the amniotic fluid, it is the place in between, where the dreamers neither take a breath nor come to the surface. Nor do they open their eyes.
Bill Viola: I spend some time getting to know the performer and we talk about deep personal experiences, which puts them into the right emotional zone. Weba Garretson, the woman in The Return, has worked with us for many years, since the Passions series. We have a good understanding. She had recently lost her mother and this “purification” with the water wall helped her through some of her grief. We try to choose people who will be good collaborators with the idea, but sometimes they do not work out, so we simply do not use their takes.
|Bill Viola's "The Deluge (Going Forth By Day)", 2002, a five-part video and sound installation|
Bill Viola: The performers were told about the fluids and the order in which they would be coming. There were emotions and feelings attached to each of the colours, but that gave way in the end to whatever the performers were experiencing. We knew that we needed to get the first take in each instance, since we needed the element of surprise and that cannot be duplicated. We had not worked with these two people before and I don’t think they knew much about the work.
|Bill Viola's ‘The Trial’ (2015)|
Bill Viola: I am still searching…
Represented by: Blain|Southern | London; James Cohan | New York; and Kukje Gallery | Seoul
Contact Email: email@example.com