Bill Viola: selected works

Bill Viola

· ·
October 21, 2009 8:00 pm

The reflecting pool
1977-79, 7 min, color, sound

In this work, all movement and change in an otherwise still scene is confined to the reflections on the surface of a pool in the woods. Suspended in time, a man hovers in a frozen, midair leap over the water, as subtle techniques of still-framing and multiple keying join disparate layers of time into a single coherent image. Viola writes that “the piece concerns the emergence of the individual into the natural world — a kind of baptism.”

Chott el-djerid (a portrait in light and heat)
1979, 28 min, color, sound

Chott el-djerid is a remarkable study of perception and transcendence. Viola writes that “chott el-djerid is the name of a vast dry salt lake in the Tunisian Sahara desert where mirages are most likely to form in the midday sun. Here, the intense desert heat manipulates, bends, and distorts the light rays to such an extent that you actually see things which are not there. Trees and sand dunes float off the ground, the edges of mountains and buildings ripple and vibrate color and form blend into one shimmering dance. In this piece, the desert mirages are set against images of the bleak winter prairies of Illinois and Saskatchewan, where the opposite climatic conditions induce a similar aura of uncertainty, disorientation, and unfamiliarity. ultimately the piece is not so much about mirages as it is about the limits of the image, i.e. at what distant point does the breakdown of normal conditions, or the lack of adequate visual information, cause us to reevaluate our perceptions of reality and realize that we are looking at something out of the ordinary — a transformation of the physical into the psychological.”

The passing
1991, 54:13 min, b&w, sound

The passing hauntingly travels the terrains of the conscious, the subconscious, and the desert landscapes of the southwest, melding sleep, dreams and the drama of waking life into a stunning masterpiece. Viola, placed at the center of this personal exploration of altered time and space, represents his mortality in such forms as a glistening newborn baby, his deceased mother, and the artist himself, floating, submerged under water. Starkly yet poignantly rendered in black and white, the passing re-enforces the notion of a permeable conduit between reality and surreality. An irrepressible soundtrack of violas labored breathing in sleeping and wakefulness serves to pull the viewer through an otherworldly topography. Amy taubin of the village voice hails the passing as “awesomely beautiful” and deems bill viola “a world-class video artist.” she writes, “some of the images… burst out of the darkness, shimmer and fade as radiant and ephemeral as shooting stars.”

Around America ii: punishment park by Peter Watkins

Punishment park
1970. 90mn. color. English with French subtitles

punishment park is a pseudo-documentary of a British and west german film crew following national guard soldiers and police as they pursue a group of members of the counterculture across the desert. In 1970 the war in Vietnam is escalating. There is massive public protest in the united states and elsewhere. President Nixon declares a state of national emergency and the federal authorities are given the power to detain persons judged to be “a risk to national security.” in a desert zone in southwest California, a civilian tribunal passes sentence on groups of dissidents and gives them the option of participating in law enforcement training exercises in the bear mountain national punishment park. In an atmosphere of aggression and intimidation and in soaring temperatures, the prisoners have to fight for their lives as they are hunted down by the forces of law and order.

Around America iii: Andy, as you know I am writing a movie…

Around America iv: marking time, making space

Around America v: Andy, as you know I am writing a movie…

Around America vi: born in flames

Born in flames
1983, 80 minutes, color, sound, English
courtesy of first-run features

Set in America ten years after the second American Revolution, born in flames is a comic fantasy of female rebellion. When Adelaide Norris, the founder of the woman’s army, is mysteriously killed, a seemingly impossible coalition of women- crossing all lines of race, class, and sexual preference- emerges to blow the system apart. In a series of thrilling and often humorous encounters between groups of women ranging from militant black lesbians to white punk feminist musicians, born in flames covers a wide range of radical feminist ideas.

Around America vii: just a question

“Just a question” was created during the last election campaign in the United States, one where the first African American candidate was racing for a real possibility to be elected president. The ghost of white supremacists, of political violence, and of ideological extremism reappeared and increased during the last days of the race in an open matter that shocked the public view. These visceral reactions confronted the image of a country that preaches itself as the land of opportunity. A week before and a week after the election, this piece was presented in the aim of portraying the contradictions and the elements that generated such reactions. For the first version, the piece was located in the street and the passing audience was invited to sit and answer the question: “this campaign season has been wrought with political hatred; how do we ensure that political violence doesn’t lead to physical violence?” for the second version, the piece was located inside a building where an African American guard, a veteran of two wars, randomly picked audience members to follow him to a room where some images of violent acts generated by racism were projected on the wall while he was asking the person: “as you know there has been a lot of talk about the possibility of assassinating Barak Obama. what do you think generates such feelings?.” for the third installment of this piece, the same set up will prevail but the question will be: “as we have seen in the news, some extremists have appeared at events where the president of the united states is talking with guns and other means for physical violence. Why do you think people see the death of a leader as an option for implementing their ideas?”

Around America viii: video screening

Around America ix: on William Burroughs and beyond

Gus Van Sant

Thanksgiving prayer

1990, 2:24 minutes, black and white, sound, English

courtesy of Gus Van Sant

Based upon the poem “thanksgiving day, Nov. 28, 1986”, written by William Burroughs for the book tornado alley (1989), thanksgiving prayer presents Burroughs reciting an indictment ballad, critical of all political and social groups in America.

Gus Van Sant

The discipline of d.e.

1982, 8:58 minutes, black and white, sound, English

Courtesy of Gus Van Sant

In this narrated version of a short story by William Burroughs, we learn the principles of “do easy” and the complications that can arise from the quest to perfect each movement in order to find the most efficient way of doing everything – even nothing. the black and white short culminates in a gun fight with the poignant question “how fast can you take your time, kid?”.

Antonello Faretta

The death of william burroughs

2005, 3:55 minutes, black and white, sound, English with French subtitles

Courtesy of noeltan film studio

“William died on August 2, 1997, Saturday at 6:30 in the afternoon from complications from a massive heart attack he’d had the day before. he was 83 years old. I was with William Burroughs when he died, and it was one of the best times I ever had with him.”

Poet and performance artist John Giorno recites a poem about the death of his friend, William Burroughs.

John Giorno

thanks for nothing

borgio-verezzi / les arques – june 2009

2009, HD video, 9:40 minutes, color, sound, English coproduction: Les ateliers des arques / John Giorno / Erba Besançon / Rainer Oldendorf
Courtesy of Rainer Oldendorf
John Giorno performs his « thanks for nothing on my seventieth birthday. I want to give my thanks to everyone for everything. and as a token of my appreciation, I want to offer back to you all my good and bad habits as magnificent priceless jewels, wish-fulfilling gems satisfying your every need and want… ».

David Wojnarowicz and Ben Neill

Excerpts from itsofomo (in the shadow of forward motion)

1989, 23:20 minutes, black and white and color, sound, english

Courtesy of p.p.o.w. gallery

itsofomo: in the shadow of forward motion is a collaborative reading performance by visual artist, writer, and performer David Wojnarowicz of his writings and musician Ben Neill; it seethes with anger and rage directed at a society unable and unwilling to cope with the aids epidemic.

around america x: artist walk

Internationally renowned artist kara walker, whose work testimony is on display in Beirut art center’s current exhibition America, will give a talk at the center.

She will be presenting eight possible beginnings and six miles from Springfield on the franklin road, two short shadow puppet films, as well as an overview of installations, drawings, and written work, in which she has attempted to undertake and undermine, mix up and satirize stereotypical perceptions of black identity and the American historical narrative.

«The quest for freedom, equality, and power are major themes of the African-American “experience”, and until the recent election of Barack Obama, regarded internally as an uphill battle, a ritual pursuit with token rewards. one persistent question in my work has been what are the limits of this freedom and power, how does it apply to making art?  many of the tenets of the black arts movement and black power movement sought to restrict the outlets for black creativity to themes and styles that reflected positively on a shared struggle.  my work seeks to work within the constraints of “historical subjects, lovingly rendered for the uplift of the people” while reveling in my ambivalence, and wonton disregard for the “whole truth”» (Kara Walker)

Around America xi: artist walk, black panthers – huey!

Artist talk by Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas, artist and black panthers’ minister for culture, discusses the graphic art he created for the black panther party during the late 1960s through the early ‘80s as well as his contemporary work. throughout his career with the black panthers, Douglas created countless artworks, illustrations, and cartoons, which were reproduced in the black panther, the party’s weekly newspaper, as well as distributed as prints, posters, cards, and even sculptures. all of these works utilized a straightforward graphic style and a vocabulary of images that would become synonymous with the party and the issues it fought for.

With the support of Heinrich Böll Foundation

9.30 pm

agnes varda

black panthers – huey!

1968, 31 minutes, back and white, sound, English

The riveting documentary, “black panthers – Huey transports you to the pivotal free Huey rally held on February 17th, 1968 (newton’s birthday), at Oakland Auditorium in Alameda, California. newton, the charismatic young college student who, along with Bobby Seale, created the black panther party, had been jailed for allegedly killing a police officer. His arrest–widely believed at the time to be a setup–galvanized party support throughout the nation and led to a boom in party membership, bringing a new level of public attention to the panthers’ cause. over 5,000 people attended the rally, which featured party leaders and guest speakers including Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, James Forman, Bob Avakian, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and Ron Dellums. Through stark un-editorialized footage, this documentary chronicles the speakers outlining the party’s platform goals, their strategies for freeing newton from jail, and more.