Immersive, timeless, eminently mystical and sensual, Bill Viola’s work fascinates us as much as it upsets us. Fascinating by its monumentality and the solemn slowness of the images, it submerges us in a flood of rain and dreamlike or cataclysmic streams, making us capsize in the wreckage of bodies and thoughts.
For Bill Viola, who likes to tell of the dazzlement he felt in front of the beauty of the world transfigured by the blue light, the underwater light, when he was saved from drowning at the age of six, water is an allegory of life. From birth to death, it is “a journey through life”, through space and time, that each of his exhibitions offers. Like Charon in Greek mythology leading the souls of the dead in his boat to the other side of life, Bill Viola leads us, not into the afterlife, but on the impermanent river of time to plunge us into the “great well” of the human condition.
A dive in the literal sense because for him everything that is fluid contains life, everything fluid is a living force: the blood that flows in our veins, the electrical flow that circulates in the wires and cables (invisible) feeding his videos … Thus, quite naturally, the American artist began to conceive his paintings in motion and his monumental video installations as real immersive works.
If from 1973 to not lock his videos in a box, he projects them on large surfaces, they will soon take on monumental dimensions, giving his living paintings the aspect of gigantic moving frescoes.
As if devoid of gravity, they compose a sort of huis-clos, floating spaces, out of time, in which the spectators are invited to immerse themselves and let themselves be invaded by the emotions aroused by the strange aquatic choreography of submerged bodies streaming or bursting into flame.
This strangeness born of the enlargement and slowing down of the image – but also of its multiplication and its continuous metamorphosis, between appearance and disappearance -, accentuated by the theatricalization of the settings and postures evoking the Mannerist painting of the end of the Renaissance, gives to these sequences of life the symbolic power of dreams.
Exhibition at the Amos Rex Museum in Helsinki
Until February 27, 2022