BILL VIOLA


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Both images are detail shots from "Stations", 5-channel video installation.

by Shirle Gottlieb

(Lannan Foundation, West Side. You may also jump from here to additional Continuing and Recommended exhibitions) This is the first glimpse Americans have had of Bill Viola's five-channel video installation Stations, which was first exhibited three years ago at the American Center in Paris. Since then Stations has also received critical acclaim in Germany before arriving here.

Anyone familiar with Viola's remarkable body of work knows that each of his environments is much more than the sum of its parts. Walking into the pitch-black darkness of the installation you are confronted by a combination of poetic state-of-the-art electronic techniques (visual images, percussive sound, ambient noise, sculptural light, psychological suspense) that transcend physical experience to enter the realm of metaphysics.

Like his other award-winning projects (Chott el-Djerid, Anthem, I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like, The Passing), Stations operates on multiple levels. What you see is never what you get.
What you see are larger-than-life, individual video projections of five nude figures (a young boy, young woman, adult man, pregnant woman, senior male) suspended in gurgling water. Floating head-down, they drift slowly, mysteriously, off the edge of the screen into dark oblivion.
Suddenly, out of the void, there is a loud, percussive explosion of water as each figure is shot dramatically onto the screen from below. Like a submarine torpedo, each body flies through the water surrounded by thousands of air bubbles--then slowly drifts freely in suspended animation. As the figures shoot forward to float and disappear, their images are reflected right-side-up on polished slabs of black granite placed at the foot of each screen. In the dark, these reflections appear to be swimming in deep pools of water. That's what you see.

What you get is the rhythm of nature; immergence and disappearance; the ongoing cycles of life, death and rebirth. What you perceive are subconscious signifiers, symbols, metaphors: water, purification, ebb and flow, gravestones, finality. What you feel is the continuity and wonder of life in all its mystery. What you leave with are the major questions of human existence that continue to go unanswered.

There is no single way to experience Viola's stunning Stations of life. Underwater sounds fill the gallery as you enter and wander surrounded by five free-floating bodies that disappear, leaving you alone in the dark. Brilliant splashs of light and sound intermittently occur. The overall effect induces a meditative mood that evokes a surreal dream state, one that puts you in touch with your own mortality.




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