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Bill Viola - becoming light

Updated on February 8, 2013

Bill Viola - master of fire, water, air and the earth

Bill Viola, one of the pioneers in video art, exhibiting his work since the 70's. Viola's art has been exhibited in many large venues for Contemporary Art; the National Gallery in London, Guggenheim Berlin, Guggenheim New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Getty Museum Los Angeles, California and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, to name just a few.

In his installations Bill Viola creates environments that totally immerse the viewer into the audio-visual realm of the work. The atmosphere of his installations is often loaded with symbolic gestures.

image ©Bill Viola

immersion into audio-visual

The Reflecting Pool by Bill Viola

The Reflecting Pool is one of the earlier installations by Viola, created during 1977-79.

At the beginning of the video loop we are presented with a view of a swimming pool at the edge of the forest. The forest is reflected on the surface of the water, creating a perfect mirror.

A man comes out of the forest, towards the viewer and steps to the edge of the pool. His reflection is combined to the reflection of the forest, his feet standing firmly on the ground.

The man leaps into the air, the visual frame freezes and the reflection of the man on the water is lost. The soundscape continues on as before; we hear the water as well as the sounds of the forest, reflecting on the water. We also hear an aeroplane passing but we cannot see it.

Then, almost imperceptibly, as the leaping man is still suspended in the air, we see his previous reflection again, standing at the edge of the pool.

The reflection turns and walks away, leaving the leaping man suspended in the air, immovable, starting to fade away. Meanwhile, we are presented with two reflections, a man and a woman walking on the side of the pool, then disappearing.

The lighting on the pool changes, rendering the first reflection of the man standing visible again. We see him walking away.

At the end of the loop there is a man getting out of the pool. Standing on the side, facing to the forest.

The man walks into the forest. The loop is complete.

For me The Reflecting Pool presents us with a fantastic interplay of the symbolic, the presence and the absence, together with the concept of duration. Viola employs similar situations in many of his later works as well, developing these ideas further. The understanding we are left with is completely open, leaving the viewer with many different possibilities to follow.

both images The Reflecting Pool ©Bill Viola

The Reflecting Pool - by Bill Viola

Bill Viola collaborates with the NIN

In 2000 Bill Viola collaborated with the Nine Inch Nails / Trent Reznor to create a large triptych focused on water imagery for the band's Fragility-tour.

The Rolling Stone called this tour "mind-blowing" and declared it the best tour of the year 2000.

Bill Viola about his work for Nine Inch Nails - Part 1

Bill Viola about his work for Nine Inch Nails - Part 2

about Trent Reznor - and the Nine Inch Nails

"I get involved with the set design, lighting and the use of film because I always hated seeing bands in arenas. They usually suck. You're not meant to see rock shows there. You're meant to see a basketball game. In approaching the idea of arenas, I asked, 'What can I do in arenas I can't do elsewhere?' I tried to make it unique, help frame the music, and make it more like theater, so it starts at one place and winds up at another."

Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor and the Nine Inch Nails

Five Angels for the Millennium - by Bill Viola

Five Angels for the Millennium

installation by Bill Viola, 2001

Bill Viola is playing with the water and duration here again.

The Angels dive into the water, or out of the water, slowly, gently

image ©Bill Viola

Five Angels for the Millennium at the Gasometer Oberhausen in 2003

At the Tate Modern in 2003

At the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2004

' I'm really interested in the root structures of

experience, because if you go way, way back, these things

are so tied to who we are as human beings they're

almost, at this point I would have to say they're

kind of built into the operating system. '

Bill Viola

BBC3 Radio interview

with Bill Viola

John Tusa Interviews Bill Viola

Bill Viola's Art on DVD - recommended

The Innocents, 2007

by Bill Viola

The Innocents - bodies walking through a liquid threshold

A young man and woman materialize and eventually break through a water wall. That is when the image also switches from soft fuzzyness to focused, hi-definition color.

There are suggestions about subtext in this work, not only including archetypal imagery of Adam and Eve but also water as a symbol of rebirth. Or could it be a threshold between life and the eternal?

Bill Viola - Ocean Without a Shore

Livre d'Or Bill Viola - Bill Viola Guestbook

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    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 

      7 years ago

      Very interesting- first I have heard of him, thanks -:)

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 

      9 years ago

      cool lens, never heard of Bill Viola B4, learned a little sumptin'


    • TheInfamous7 profile image


      9 years ago

      Another superbly detailed Lens mj!!..excellently well done!! :-) x


    • religions7 profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow. Another great lens. thanks for introducing me to Bill Viola

    • Deborah Swain profile image

      Deborah Swain 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      i just love bill viola's work...there was an amazing show in rome recently -


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