Sunday, September 13, 2009

Response to Bill Viola Videos

In class Thursday we watched Anthem (1983) and The Space Between the Teeth (1976) by Bill Viola, an excellent artist to study for the theme of Time.

Anthem was a pretty random assembly of subject matter: a tree in a forest, heavy machinery, a girl, surgery, x-rays, oilrigs, a flag, people on the beach. Throughout was the slow sound of the girl screaming.

This sort of non-narrative abstracted video sequence is not engaging. It requires one to sit with the piece without convincing one to do so.

I wouldn't make something like this, and I don't think other people my age would either. I would pick either something experiential, which I would not present as a film, or I would make something that is more direct, cohesive, appealing, or visually exciting. Art is past the point of being abstract, obscure, or inaccessible. It is no longer about the artist or even the art object, it is about the experience of the viewer. Or so I generally think. Few, few people would take the time to watch a film like Anthem when there are millions of other things on YouTube.

It's important to break away from convention in art, but I value narrative as a primary mode of human understanding.

That said, Viola has a way of making one spend time with the piece that was especially apparent in Anthem. His revealing of rythmic visual details long enough for one to be with them but mostly not to the point of one being bored (with that particular scene) before cutting to something new is skillful. He has a way of revealing beauty over time that is breathtaking, even if this was not one of my favorite of his pieces.

The Space Between the Teeth had more narrative, and agian worked with rhythmic assembly of shots in an intimate way. There was something so bizarre about what was happening and simlultaneouly incredibly mundane. I liked that, I felt like his yells in that context embodied the sort of existential angst I sometimes feel. The random inclusion of the scenes from the kitchen with the TV noise is a lot of where I get that context.

This is the first I've been exposed to Viola's earlier work. I've seen some of his work of the last two decades that was pretty simple and beautiful and touching, about meditation and spirit, life and death, more direct and sincere somehow in their immediacy. They seem to have shed the extraneous parts of his earlier work and very elegantly work with time to move the viewer. The Passing, 1991, is one of my favorites.

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