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Bill Viola

Life After Death

01. Nov 2019 - 01. Mar 2020

Bill Viola is one of our most renowned video artists. For forty years he has made artworks dealing with universal human experiences such as birth, life and death. They often have spiritual or religious undertones and contain references to Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism and Christian mysticism. The video works are presented as installations that activate the exhibition space and immerse the viewer in sound and imagery. Viola uses the video media’s technological possibilities simultaneously as he borrows narrative means from classic theatre. Motifs from Western and Eastern pictorial traditions are regularly referenced in his works, and we often find visual references to Medieval and Renaissance paintings.

Stavanger Art Museum is happy to present the work Man Searching for Immortality / Woman Searching for Eternity, 2013. This long-term loan will be presented in the same space as Tristan’s Acension, 2005

Man Searching for Immortality / Woman Searching for Eternity is a double-channel video installation. The two films, presenting an elderly woman and a man – both undressed with a torchlight in hand examining their own bodies – are projected against two plates of granite leaning against the wall. The work thematises the mortality of our own bodies in a direct, yet poetic way. There is a brutal honesty in displaying the two bodies like this, and yet it is also perfectly natural. The work has no sound, as if to underscore the strong impact these straight forward images has on the viewer.  

The symbolism of water is a leitmotif in his artistic practice as well, both as a purifying and a destructive force of nature. There was a time in Viola’s childhood when he almost drowned in a lake; he has since described it as a peaceful and beautiful experience, and it has marked his artistic practice. Tristan’s Ascension is part of The Tristan Project, a series of video works inspired by Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde (1857-59). The opera is based on the Medieval legend of the tragic romance between the knight Tristan and the princess Isolde.

Bill Viola (b. 1951, New York), a pioneer of video art, produced his first video works in the early 1970s. Having graduated from Syracuse University in the state of New York, he landed a job as a technical director at the pioneering video-studio Art/Tapes/22 in Florence, where he encountered video artists such as Nam June Paik, Bruce Naumann and Vito Acconci. In 1980 Viola spent a year in Japan. While there, along with pursuing his artistic practice, he studied Zen Buddhism. He has also made artworks for TV, the Theatre stage, opera performances and sacred spaces. 2017 alone he was the subject of several major museum retrospectives including Palazzo Strozzi, Florence; The Diechtorhallen, Hamburg; and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.