An Evening with Video Artist Bill Viola
Description: Bill Violadims the lights in MIT's Room 10"250, and begins to talk of life, death and all that lies between, leaving the realm of classroom and entering a place of potential enlightenment. Weaving together his video art, personal anecdotes, poetry and other writings from religious traditions spanning the globe and the ages, Viola illuminates his own spiritual journey and search for meaning. With a light touch, he manages to tap into reservoirs of deep feeling.
Viola imparts the vital interplay between his life experience, and the evolution of his vision. After his mother's death, for instance, he 'recovered' her after finding a bowl she'd given him years earlier. Objects outlive us, Viola realized, and contain their own "spark of life." This is true of technologically enabled things including Viola's own video art. He admits that this medium makes him nervous. One of the world's most dangerous weapons is the camera, whose "narrow focus, which is its strength, allows me to see inside a soul." It can also "intentionally obscure an entire class or race." Technology may be used to enrich or to harm, but its goal must be knowledge.
Viola recalls Buddha, who told his followers to treat his teachings like a raft, which should just be used "to get to the other side. From that point on, only an idiot would carry a boat around." This is a good time for Buddhist ideas, suggests Viola. The world "seems like it's deconstructing before our eyes." Yet Viola says he's "excited about this age. People who've been making money, doing stuff, must suddenly start living like artists." He tells students they should be "very happy graduating into this emptiness," because collapse brings opportunities for regeneration.
Viola recounts various other experiences and insights: a visit to an exhibit of Bodhisattva sculptures, which he regarded merely as ancient art, until an old lady adorned them with scarves, revering them as sacred objects; a Flemish painting of Mary that left him weeping, and made him realize that he "was using art, mourning his mother who was leaving this world."
Only after years of training, says Viola, "could I see how my personal and professional life was not at odds, that it holds the whole edifice of the self up." One profound expression of that interdependence is played in this talk: his 1992 Nantes Triptych, whose three 'panels' consist of videos of the live birth of a baby, the last moments of Viola's mother's life, and a clothed man drifting in an underwater pool "in currents between the poles of life."
About the Speaker(s): Bill Viola received his B.F.A. in Experimental Studios from Syracuse University in 1973 and currently lives and works in Long Beach, California with Kira Perov, his wife and long"time collaborator.
Viola has exhibited works and established relationships with some of the world's most prestigious museums and institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, which in 1997 organized an exhibition entitled Bill Viola: A 25"Year Survey; the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and Guggenheim Museum, New York; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the National Gallery, London; the Fondacin "La Caixa," Madrid; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; the Op_ra National de Paris, Bastille; the Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles; and the Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts in New York.
Viola is the recipient of numerous prestigious national and international awards and honors, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1989 and the first Medienkunstpreis in 1993. He holds honorary doctorates from Syracuse University (1995), The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1997), California Institute of the Arts (2000), Royal College of Art, London (2004) among others, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000.
Host(s): Office of the Provost, Council for the Arts
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