I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like

1986, 89 min, color, sound

One of the major works in video, I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like envisions an epic quest for transcendence and self-knowledge. Viola describes this work as a "personal investigation of the inner states and connections to animal consciousness we all carry within." The title is taken from the Rig-Veda, the Sanskrit spiritual text that defines a procession through birth, consciousness, primordial existence, intuition, knowledge, rational thought, and faith, to arrive at a transcendent reality "beyond the laws of physics." Unfolding in powerful, emblematic images and allegorical passages, Viola articulates a dramatic quest for self-knowledge through an awareness of the Other, embodied here by a shamanistic vision of animal consciousness.

Structured in five parts, Il Corpo Scuro (The Dark Body), The Language of the Birds, The Night of Sense, Stunned by the Drum, and The Living Flame, the tape envisions a metaphysical journey of rational and intuitive thought, from the natural world to spiritual rituals. Viola's poetic investigation of subject and object, observing and being observed, and his search for knowledge of the self is encapsulated in an indelible visual metaphor: an image of the artist reflected in the pupil of an owl's eye.

Additional Camera/Production Assistance/Still Photographer: Kira Perov. Engineering: Tom Piglin. Produced in association with the American Film Institute, Los Angeles; The Contemporary Art Television (CAT) Fund, a project of the WGBH New Television Workshop, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; and ZDF, Mainz, West Germany.


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