Video works by Bill Viola - the idea of Loneliness, fear and Obsession

Loneliness, fear, obsession and Bill Viola


 "I've always felt that I needed to slow down what was happening. For me the world was always happening too fast and it just didn't seem like I could handle that,
 because I always wanted to look really closely at things."
Bill Viola

This video is part of Bill Viola's exhibition Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures at Blain Southern Gallery. An exhibition about isolation, fear, obsession, loss ---- in relation to my project proposal about human routines and obsessive behaviour/habit/


Bill Viola, Walking on the edge (2012)

In Walking on the Edge: two men, tiny figures in the distance. Blurred because of the heat, almost liquefied, they could be a mirage, or the reflection of each other. They start walking towards us and as they get nearer, they also grow closer to each other.
Two men, two ages, when they collide, their shoulders, arms touch. There is no violence. They look at each other, there is a form of exchange, but then they walk away, almost indifferent, they pass each other and the distance between them grows again.

The desert around them, the silence, the absence of other human beings in this isolated and immense space, reinforces the impression of loneliness and failure: failed encounter, missed opportunity, inability to create a connection.

In the same series: Ancestors, a woman and a man, still in the desert, walk sort of side by side. As they approach they start acknowledging the presence of the other. The man touches the woman's shoulder, we guess a smile, it is difficult to see their faces very clearly but somehow it does not really matter. There is something eternal about them, deeply human.
These two figures are less isolated than in the other two videos: they may be in the middle of a desert with no-one else around, but they are walking together. They do not seem lost.
But as they grow closer to the viewer, the man slowly disappears from the frame. His hand, like a mark of his presence, remains on her shoulder.
Impression of loss but also of something else, something hidden. He has become something she carries for her, inside her.

Bill Viola, Ancestors (2012)

The heat, heavy, oppressive, is like a third character in each of these three videos. It is almost difficult to look at. It has a physical presence. And it does not just blur the image: it renders it more poignant, more dramatic. Claustrophobic too, crushing.


My Thoughts/Analysis:

Next to these three videos: Chapel of Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures: group of nine videos, on smaller screens, each with its dominant colour, its own light, beautifully filmed as if showing a precious, intimate moment. I'm reminded of these small scenes we find in line under religious pictures in Italy, those that tell the story of the lives of the Saints. These videos tell us the story of everyday small gestures, little habits, obsessions, things that punctuate a life, that we do to reassure ourselves, tame our fears, mark the passage of time. Rituals. But absurd ones.

Bill Viola, Chapel of Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures (2013)

This man digs up a hole to fill it back again, another fills up a cart and empties it as soon as it is full, a cracked bowl gets filled with water that slowly seeps through the crack, a man and a woman fighting mechanically and making up just as mechanically, two women exchanging the same gift over and over again... Slowly, obsessively, mad everyday activities that make sense only for the persons performing it.

There is something both comical and incredibly sad about this. Even the video depicting couples convey an impression of failed communications, faked emotions, isolation. Madness.
The impression of cruelty and cynicism is also reinforced by the size and disposition of the videos too. On the reproduction here they seem rather large but the screens were less than 50cm x 90 cm, disposed on one panel, next to each other, mixed up.
The 'smallness' of the scenes depicted is underlined by the length of each movie, short, and played in continuum, and by the fact that the scenes, the movements, do not seem as slow as they usually are. The space is smaller, even outside it takes place on a specific point; the time of the action is shorter and each action appears as insignificant, a wilful alienation.

Bill Viola, Chapel of Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures (2013)


Bill Viola, The Dreamers (2013)

A final series, in the basement, shows a series of seven portraits of people, their eyes closed, under water. They are not dead. Some bubbles escape at times from their mouth. Title - The Dreamers -suggest they may be asleep.

I found this work very interesting. Men, women, different ages, all rather well dressed. They appear at peace but there is also something ghostly about them: their skin is too pale, their hairs float, the light is unnatural. Their bodies are moved by the movement of the water: they are not in jars, there are pebbles under them, and yet they fill the screen, the space. They do seem trapped somehow. But there is, on their part, no anxiety. I think of embryo, corpse in formol. They have been taken out of their normal habitat. And I felt they have been put there for preservation, that their time has not only been slowed right down but has actually been suspended. These clothes also disturb me. Those are clothes of people going somewhere, doing things, not getting ready for hibernation. It feels like they the people, have been stolen. The whole installation is rather eerie and while there is something appeasing compared to the tension coming from the works shown above, there is a fear. And as I looked at them, I realised I was holding my breath.


Bill Viola, The Dreamers (2013)

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