American artist Bill Viola is one of the leading international artists working in video art. For more than 30 years, Viola has been experimenting with video tapes, video installations, sound environments, electronic-music performances and TV productions. In both 1995 and 2007, the artist appeared at the Venice Biennial to much acclaim. However, since his first solo exhibition in 1993 at the Musée des Beaux-Arts Lausanne, his work has only been shown in group exhibitions in Switzerland. This April an extensive overview of his practice, Passions, appears at Kunstmuseum Bern and runs until 20 July.
The viewer is immersed in Viola’s installations, as he places them in a world of images and sound. The artist utilises the latest technology to alter his audiences’ perception of the world. Since the early 1970s, he has been using video as a medium to explore the senses and its effects on humanities understanding of personal identity. His work is based on how individuals respond to the fundamental experiences of human existence such as birth, death and awareness. He also looks at how these experiences are reflected in ancient spiritual traditions and art of the East and the West, including those of Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism and Christian mysticism. Viola has made a significant impact upon video being recognised as key medium within contemporary art, and thus also in regard to technology, content and historical contexts.
Back in the early 1990s, the Kunstmuseum Bern purchased works by Viola, establishing him firmly within the collection. Passions features several pieces, four of which stand as video projections throughout the museum. These works represent the artists growing fascination with existential and spiritual questions. Five of his more recent pieces will also be on show at the Cathedral of Berne and are devoted solely to spiritual and universal human subject matter. They illustrate people and spaces in symbolical acts, thereby referencing liturgical rituals with their universal meanings of cleansing, transformation and human compassion.
Bill Viola: Passions, until 20 July, Kunstmuseum Bern, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Berne, Museum of Fine Arts Bern, Hodlerstrasse 8–12, CH-3000 Bern 7.
1. Bill Viola, Ablutions, 2005. Video-Diptychon, Farbe, Plasmabildschirm, 101.5 x 122 x 10.8 cm, 7:01 Minuten. Darstellende: Lisa Rhoden, Jeff Mills. Foto: Kira Perov © Bill Viola Studio.