Bill Viola: Leave something behind

Reviewed on 03/5/2014 | No Reviews

Photo: © Kira Perov, Rafa Rivas AFP

“I was born at the same time as video”, Bill Viola often says. It was back in 1951 when he was born in New York. A couple of months later, Bing Crosby presented the first video tape recorder. Was it a coincidence or a sign? Or did Viola just use the coincidence to make a vocation out of it?

An inner journey

Fact is, you can’t think video art today without thinking Viola. The Grand Palais in Paris is celebrating the artist with a phenomenal show, his first retrospective in France, one of the biggest ever shown. Twenty important works are gathered, covering four decades of his work, hours and hours of video. Water, fire, deserts: these are the elements Viola uses to transform inner mysteries in pictures. Curator Jerôme Neutres has conceived the show like an inner journey, which is soberly and elegantly designed by Bobby Jablonsky and the Parisian architect Gaëlle Seltzer creating a dialogue between each piece and the visitor.

Video art though, you might think, is something for insiders. Just forget everything you ever heard about it, go and see and most of all: take your time. Viola just wants you being like this: not informed, but open minded, curious. And you’ll quickly discover the magic of his work: pure beauty rising up existential questions. Who are we, where do we go? Why?

Painting in movement

Viola’s videos are moving paintings. His palette is technical, but his aim spiritual: looking for beauty, searching for the moment where the contemplation of the work changes the observer. He wants to make us think, he wants us not to take time, not to be in time, but to be in the moment. The power of his work consists not in speaking to our brain, but touching us directly in our entrails.

Look at “Catherine’s Room” (2001): four flat screens showing a woman doing activities linked to a certain moment of the day. The light, the colours, the serenity of the woman makes you think that an old Dutch painting started to live. Or take the stunning “The quintet of the Astonished” (2000) showing a small group of people, closely gathered, and one by one overwhelmed by emotions: It’s as if a painting of Hieronymus Bosch started to move.

A spiritual moment

“Life is short”, Viola said during a press conference in Paris. His short talk was actually a rare and very spiritual moment. He talked about our journey through life, our short time on earth. “Leave something behind”, is the lesson he gave. He will have left a lot.

Bill Viola – Grand Palais – From 5 March 2014  - 21 July 2014
Place Clemenceau
75008 Paris
Métro: Franklin Rossevelt   or Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau 
Open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Wednesday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays, closed on Tuesdays.
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