Bill Viola – An Approach to the Idea of Passage

Ana Cristina MARIAN


This article analyzes how the multimedia installations and videos of American artist Bill Viola, one of the most out-standing names in video art, develop the idea of passage (from the mundane to the spiritual), materialized as a form of communication through the digital image. Focusing on examples from Viola’s work, the article argues that Viola uses the contre-jour technique to highlight the presence of the camflouged sacred. In the context of recent theories about the “return of beauty” (Mitchell 2005) in the work of multimedia artists like Mona Hatoum (Impenetrable, 2010) and Klaus Obermeier (Apparition), Viola tests the limits of technology and seeks to transfigure the common place and turn it, through art, into the sacred. Many of his videos start from an everyday occurrence and end up raising existential questions. I argue that in this way Viola’s work reflects Mircea Eliade’s idea that the sacred and the mundane coexist (Eliade 2005, 32-33). His videos speak about a reflection on life where narrative and symbol combine in a holistic vision (Martin 2006, 92). Focusing on the recontextualization of the idea of passage, a recurring theme in the videos The Reflecting Pool (1977-1979), The Veiling (1995), Fire Woman (2005), and An Ocean Without a Shore (2007), the article analyzes the explorations of the boundary between two worlds in Viola’s videos. The timeless atmosphere, conveyed through techniques that break the image ryhthm through slow-motion or contre-jour filming, accompany the artist’s mise-en-scene, which addresses universal themes, such as birth, death, life, love, in a contemporary way. 

Keywords: video, visual perception, light, contre-jour, passage