Viola Bill:Selected Works
Viola Bill:Selected Works
Release datum:
Éditions à Voir
Bill Viola (b. 1951) is recognized around the world as a major figure in video art. Many believe he is the most important artist working in video today. With tapes of remarkable visual and aural beauty, poetic resonance and technical virtuosity, Viola has virtually defined the state of the art for more than three decades and has given the young tradition at least a score of its acknowledged masterpieces. There can be no serious center of film/video studies in the western world and Japan that has not exhibited his work, and his influence on his contemporaries, and the new generation of video artist in the United States in incalculable.

This collection contains four of Viola’s most acclaimed videotapes–which means they are among the most famous and widely seen works in the history of video art. These “allegories in the language of subjective perception” illustrate the broad range of invention and technique that Viola brings to bear upon his singular vision of being in the world. Each is structured around a solitary movement, moment or phenomenon through which Viola explores the nature of video, the categories of perception, the cognitive and spiritual inner life of the witness.

Compounded of many resonances, each level of meaning interwoven with myriad others, these exquisite “visual songs” give us the elegant music of the poet’s voice. They not only allow but demand repeated viewing so that their full richness and significance can unfold in the mind’s eye, transforming us as all true poetry does.

–Gene Youngblood

All works conceived and produced by Bill Viola.
Production manager, Kira Perov
Supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.


Migration, 1976
Color, mono sound, 7:00 minutes
Produced in association with Synapse Video Center, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York

Migration is a slow continuous journey through changes in scale, punctuated by the sounding of a gong. The piece concerns the nature of the detail of an image. In visual terms, this is known as 'acuity' and is related to the number of photoreceptors on a given surface area of the retina. In television terms, detail is referred to as 'resolution,' and is a measure of the number of picture elements in a given horizontal or vertical direction of the video frame. Reality, unlike the image on the retina or on the television tube, is infinitely resolvable — 'resolution' and 'acuity' are properties only of images. The piece evolves into an exploration of the optical properties of a drop of water, revealing in it an image of the individual and a suggestion of the transient nature of the world he possesses within.


The Reflecting Pool, 1977-79
Color, mono sound; 7 minutes.

A man emerges from the forest and stands before a pool of water. He leaps up and time suddenly stops. All movement and change in the otherwise still scene is limited to the reflections and undulations on the surface of the pond. Time becomes extended and punctuated by a series of events seen only as reflections in the water. The work describes the emergence of the individual into the natural world, a baptism into a world of virtual images and indirect perceptions.


Ancient of Days, 1979-81
Color, stereo sound; 12:21 minutes

A series of canons and fugues for video expressing the nature of the passage of time. Diverse rhythms of natural and subjective time are interwoven into a complex whole in a structure similar to music composition. Time becomes fluid to describe a world where destruction, run in reverse, becomes creation, where the larger patterns of changing weather on the face of a mountain unfold within the time of a fleeting human action, and the inexorable winding down of time cycles leads to a muted scene of a still life, where remaining natural change is confined within a picture frame hanging on the wall.


Chott el-Djerid (A Portrait in Light and Heat), 1979
Videotape, color, mono sound; 28 minutes

Chott el-Djerid is the name of a vast, dry salt lake in the Tunisian Sahara Desert, where mirages are most likely to form in the midday sun. Here the intense desert heat manipulates, bends, and distorts the light rays to such an extent that you actually see things that are not there. Trees and sand dunes float off the ground, the edges of mountains and buildings ripple and vibrate, color and form blend into one shimmering dance. The desert mirages are set against images of the bleak winter prairies of Illinois and Saskatchewan, Canada, some of them recorded in a snowstorm. The opposite climactic conditions induce a similar aura of uncertainty, disorientation, and unfamiliarity.

Through special telephoto lenses adapted for video, the camera confronts the final barrier of the limits of the image, the point when the breakdown of normal conditions, or the lack of visual information, causes us to reevaluate our perceptions of reality and realize that we are looking at something out of the ordinary—a transformation of the physical into the psychological. If one believes that hallucinations are the manifestation of some chemical or biological imbalance in the brain, then mirages and desert heat distortions can be considered hallucinations of the landscape. It was like physically being inside someone else's dream.