Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Fall Into Paradise
Video/sound installation
copyright 2005 Bill Viola. Photo: Kira Perov

All works of art, though visible, represent invisible things.

~ Bill Viola

Bill Viola is an American artist who has worked for many years with video, creating sound/image projections that often fill huge spaces. In an uncanny way, his work taps into very primal human emotions and themes. On London's Tate Modern website I recently came across a talk Viola gave at the Tate in June 2006. I don't think I have ever heard an artist better explain the connection between art and spirituality. If you can make the time to listen, I think you'll find it rewarding:


In this first excerpt from the lecture he is speaking about holy texts like the Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, etc.:

They’re written in a form of language which is addressing something that is ultimately unknowable. And they’re describing experiences and situations which themselves are sort of ineffable. And so the way they’re written is this open-ended way; it’s no coincidence that King James, when he was translating the Bible, decided to hire poets to do the translating and the writing into English, because that comes closest to this way of touching something without disturbing it; without shining a bright light on it and blinding it or evaporating it.

Some further excerpts:

You get to a point where you’re staring at the blank page or the blank canvas long enough and you just have to get off your butt and do something, you have to start...just getting going is so important; once you take some steps you start on the path, even if it’s an unknown path—all of a sudden you’re not here, you’re there, and there has a different view—different angles of view—than here does. So you’re automatically in a more creative kind of space.

Artists must be able to fall...you must be able to step off the ledge and not worry if there’s rocks under the surface, where you’re going. And that’s the only way that you’ll actually go forward...you just go on faith, blind faith.

Here's a link to a segment of a Viola video called "The Passing:"


Sheila Vaughan said...

Don, those words are so fascinating to me. The notion that things are not that easy to put into "logical language" - having poets to translate the Bible sounds right, allowing for depths and "unknowns" and "perceptions" about things rather than "rules" about them. It mapped right onto my painting efforts this morning, thanks for that !
The other issue for me is that because I do not hear well I can't cope with the videos - such as the Tate or YouTube produce. I need subtitles and they don't yet provide them. I will look however to see if I can find any Bill Viola transcripts.

Katherine said...

Thanks Don, I needed that. Isn't that what I was just saying, that sometimes getting off my butt to make those first strokes of paint is sometimes the hardest part.To let the work that will follow remain a mystery until it is time for it to be revealed. I loved the last paragraph about falling, I feel that way about an entire body of work right now.

Are you going to write something for my art and meaning project?

Pierre Raby said...

I've seen many pieces of his work here in Montreal, back in the 90's.
It's been a revelation to me. One must see his videos live on large screens that are a precious elements of his installations to deeply appreciate it. That way, you can merge with the visual/sound experience.
Same thing for our paintings, isn't it? Thanks Don for sharing these links on your inspiring blog!

Don Gray said...

Hi Sheila,

Yes, Viola covered a lot of ground in his talk, and those quotes were parts that just stood out for me. I'm sorry that the audio of his talk is inaccessible for you. As far as the videos that Viola himself makes, sound--though important--is not critical to getting something from them; they are highly visual and there's no dialogue, per se. In "The Passing" video that I linked to, for instance, much of the audio is the sound of breathing.

Don Gray said...

Glad you enjoyed Viola's words, Katherine--a lot of wisdom there. Getting started is an issue that is virtually universal, isn't it?

I'll write something asap--thanks for inviting me to contribute to that. I'm sure enjoying the artists you've featured so far.

Anonymous said...

Lots of Mr. Viola's written transcripts can be found in this Google search.


Interesting post, Don. Thank you.

Don Gray said...

Pierre, the scene with the birthday candle lighting in "The Passing" made me think of your paintings on that subject.

I'm sure you're right about the experience of being surrounded by these images and sounds in a whole environment. I hope to experience that. Thanks for writing.

Don Gray said...

Thanks a lot, Anonymous. I'll email that on to Sheila.

Lu said...

I was introduced to Viola years ago at the Getty in LA.Stood mesmerized until pulled away by time factor.PASSING?...So powerful the tears flowed.Can't do more than one a day.Thanks for making this available...

Don Gray said...

Thanks for writing Lu, and sharing your experience.

Deborah Paris said...

Very powerful Don. Somehow trying to put the connection of art and the spiritual into words often trivializes it, but here its been done beautifully.

Don Gray said...

I agree, Deborah. Viola is an exceptional speaker--good at expressing difficult concepts verbally.

Susan Rudat said...

Very inspiring thoughts. Makes me think differently about things, and that is a very good thing. Thank you!

Don Gray said...

Yes, I felt the same way, Susan--thanks.