Internationally acclaimed American artist Bill Viola has worked with video for over 35 years, creating immersive installations that surround the viewer with image and sound. Driven by interests in sense perception, collective memory, subjective thought, and the universality of the human experience, Viola has produced videotapes, architectural video installations, and flat panel video pieces, as well as works for television broadcast. His practice, stunning in its scope and technological sophistication, has greatly expanded the breadth of the medium and has helped to solidify video as a viable form of contemporary art. His current exhibition at James Cohan Gallery in New York, Bodies of Light, which opened on October 23rd, includes a large video/sound installation as well as several flat screen pieces from the Transfigurations series, his most recent body of work.
Pneuma, one of Viola’s signature full room installations, is situated in the main gallery space at James Cohan. Bodies of Light marks the New York premiere of the piece, which was originally created in 1994 and updated in 2009. Pneuma consists of three channels of black and white High-Definition video projected into three corners of a square space, accompanied by three channels of amplified sound, resulting in a constantly shifting sound field. In the darkened room, viewers encounter monochromatic images that alternately emerge and disappear from the projection space. These images do not refer to any particular place or event, but function like memory and only allude to recognizable forms, triggering emotional response within the viewer. The title of the work, pneuma, is an ancient Greek term that has no modern linguistic equivalent. It refers to a vital force that animates the human and natural world.
The Transfigurations series originated with Ocean Without a Shore, a piece created for the 2007 Venice Biennale where it was shown in the 15th century Church of San Gallo. The works in the series depict mysterious black-and-white figures, recorded in grainy analog video, emerging from complete darkness to walk through a thin veil of water into a realm of clarity, color, and light. Images recorded with an old surveillance camera slowly blend into those shot in High-Definition as the figures pass through the water screen. The works being shown from this series are Acceptance (2008), Incarnation (2008), The Innocents (2008), and Small Saints (2008).
Viola’s works have been exhibited worldwide and are included in the collections of several international museums and important private collectors. In 1997, the Whitney Museum of American Art organized Bill Viola: A 25-Year Survey that included over 35 installations and videotapes and traveled for two years in the United States and Europe.
Bodies of Light will remain at James Cohan in New York until December 19, 2009.