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Bill Viola


Bill Viola, The Dreamers (detail), Video/Sound Installation

Bill Viola  has been instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art, and in so doing has helped to greatly expand its scope in terms of technology, content, and historical reach.

Viola uses video to explore the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge. His works focus on universal human experiences—birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness—and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism.

The Chapel of Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures (2013)

The Chapel of Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures, from which the exhibition derives its name, incorporates a grid of nine horizontal screens that depict figures perpetually repeating various activities. Presented in real time, we witness a man pulling a cart up a hill, only to let it roll back down again as soon as he reaches the top – a palpable reference to Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, a philosophical essay based on the Greek myth, which calls into question the significance of our daily accomplishments. In another screen, we observe a man continuously digging and refilling a hole in the ground at night. The central panel shows a glass bowl being filled with water from a jug, which slowly seeps out through a crack in the glass until it has emptied – at which point the bowl is then refilled. Every action is repeated in ritualistic fashion, gradually and purposefully, rendering each unsuccessful endeavour all the more poignant.1In Man Searching for Immortality/Woman Searching for Eternity (2013) a man and woman in the later stages of their lives emerge out of the darkness, pausing to explore their own naked bodies with torches, a daily routine search for disease and decay. The figures are projected onto two seven-foot high black granite slabs, suggestive of tombstones, which evoke a sense of impending mortality.


Man with His Soul (2013) presents us with a man sitting on a chair, waiting, though we will never discover exactly what he is waiting for. The left hand screen – in high-definition video – depicts his conscious self, while the right – shot in grainy black and white – portrays his soul, his inner being. Thus, the viewer is confronted with a juxtaposition of physical and psychological realities.

Angel at the Door (2013)

Angel at the Door (2013) continues to explore this theme of the ‘inner self’; a cycle develops whereby a man hears a knocking at the door, but each time he opens it, he finds no one there – only a dark void. When he opens the door for the final time, however, there is an explosion, revealing a mirror image of himself – offering a thought-provoking insight into man’s inevitable and unavoidable confrontation with his ‘inner self’.

The Dreamers (2013) consists of seven individual screens, which depict underwater portraits of people who appear to be sleeping. Presented in the gallery on the lower-ground floor, and accompanied by the gentle sounds of water, the viewer is led to feel as if they themselves are submerged with these figures. In this spiritual, immersive subterranean environment, ultimate interpretation is left for the viewer to define, through the lens of their own experiences.

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