Bill Viola

Bill Viola is a major figure in video art. His installations and videotapes, which have received international recognition, are distinguished by a confluence of allegorical resonance and virtuosic control of technology. Viola explores video's temporal and optical systems to metaphorically examine modes of perception and cognition, and ultimately chart a symbolic quest for self. Employing a rigorous structuralism, a ritualized investigation of visual and acoustic phenomena, illusion and reality, he achieves a poetic articulation of visionary transcendence. "Visual poems, allegories in the language of subjective perception," is how Viola terms his videotapes, which include such major works as Chott el-Djerid (1979); Hatsu Yume (First Dream) (1981); and I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like (1986).

Light and time are the essential materials with which Viola conducts his metaphysical, at times spiritual search to know and define the self. Rendered plastic, they are used to define a symbolic language of the unconscious and consciousness, microcosm and macrocosm, inner and outer landscapes. Unfolding without spoken language, infused with emblematic transformations and archetypal images, his works suggest subconscious dreams or pre-lingual memories. Viola's extraordinary use of video technology to "sculpt" with time is one of his few "special effects." Time-lapse, slow motion, reversals, duration and other temporal interventions acquire metaphorical significance, evoking cycles of day and night, birth, life, death and renewal.

This unique exploration of technological systems to articulate transcendent perceptions reflects a convergence of eclectic influences: musical principles; the philosophies and rituals of non-Western cultures; Judeo-Christian mysticism; modernism and Romanticism; the natural and animal worlds; structuralist film; and the television and media world of his self-described "seven-channel childhood."

Viola's presence is always manifested in images or reflections of himself. In early, performance-based exercises, including Migration (1976) and The Space Between the Teeth (1976), Viola began a systematic mapping of specific optical devices — macro lens, the zoom — to explore modes of seeing and perceiving reflections of the self. With The Reflecting Pool (1977-80), which describes "the stages of a personal journey through images of transition," Viola employs increasingly sophisticated manipulations of time and light as metaphysical constructs. Astonishing alterations and transformations of reality and representation disrupt the viewer's expectations of visual and temporal causality.

One of the culminating expressions of Viola's artistic project, I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like (1986) unfolds as an epic quest for transcendence and self-knowledge through a symbolic rendering of animal and spiritual consciousness. This highly allegorical work includes a vision that is emblematic of Viola's artistic project: a self-image reflected in an owl's eye.

Viola is best known for his significant body of work in multi-media installation, in which he extends his symbolic language of images and sound into dramatic, theatrical articulations.

Viola was born Queens, New York in 1951. He received a B.F.A. from the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Syracuse University, in 1973. While there, he was an instrumental participant in the Synapse Video Center, one of the first alternative media centers in New York State. In 1973, he and several musicians formed the Composers Inside Electronics Group; in 1975, he became technical director of Art/Tapes/22, an artists' production studio in Florence, Italy. From 1976 until 1980, Viola was artist-in- residence at the Television Laboratory at WNET/Thirteen, New York; he was artist-in-residence at the Sony Corporation, Atsugi, Japan, in 1980.

In 1977 Viola was invited to show his videotapes at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, by cultural arts director Kira Perov, who joined him a year later in New York. Viola and Perov married in 1978 and moved to Long Beach, California in 1981, beginning a lifelong collaboration working and traveling together, establishing a prolific studio practice and managing rigorous production and exhibition schedules.

Viola has received numerous awards, including a United States/Japan Exchange Fellowship in 1980; a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in 1982; a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1985; the Polaroid Video Art Award in 1985; National Endowment for the Arts awards in 1978, 1983, 1986, and 1989; and the American Film Institute's Maya Deren Award for Independent Film and Video in 1987. In 1989, he was the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award; in 1993 he received a Skowhegan Medal (Video Installation), and the Medienkunstpreis, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, and Siemens Kulturprogramm, Germany. Other recognition includes a Cultural Leadership Award, American Federation of Arts, in 2003; a 2006 NORD/LB Art Prize, Bremen, Germany, and in 2009 he received a Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts, Cambridge, MA, as well as the Catalonia International Prize, Barcelona, Spain.

Viola's videotapes and installations have been shown widely throughout the world, in major group exhibitions at festivals and institutions including Kolnischer Kunstverein, Cologne; Documenta VI, Kassel, Germany; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and the Venice Biennale. He has also had one-person shows at the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands; Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome; National Gallery of Victoria, Australia; Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland; Museo de Bellas Artes de Granada, Palacio de Carlos V, Alhambra, Spain; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark; Fundación "la Caixa," Madrid, Spain; Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain; The National Gallery, London; Ruhrtriennale, Gasometer, Oberhausen, Germany; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; ARC/Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin; the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston; the James Cohan Gallery, New York; Haunch of Venison, London and Berlin; Kukje Gallery, Seoul, South Korea, among many other institutions.

Bill Viola was the subject of a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1998, and was chosen to represent the United States at the 46th Venice Biennale. Five video and sound installations were created specifically by Viola for the Biennale's United States Pavilion. Viola also produced a site-specific collateral installation for the 52nd Venice Biennale, in the fifteenth-century Church of the Oratorio San Gallo, located adjacent to the Piazza San Marco. The triptych installed within the church, titled Ocean Without a Shore, inspired an entirely new body of work known as the Transfiguration series.

Viola and Perov live in Long Beach, California.