Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bill Viola

If the name above rings a bell for you, then you are certainly up with the times concerning art.

Bill Viola is a contemporary artist based in Long Beach. He's internationally known and his works have inspired many others profoundly. He came to speak at our school today, and I was really excited for it. What I got was quite unexpected.

He opened up with one of his works... it was a video he did in the 80's. They seemed to be a bunch of random scenes put together, along with varying pitches of what sounded like sirens or audio feedback. That was the only sound... those sirens, set to a changing landscape of various scenes from a girl in a church (kept going back to that, actually), a snake in a tree, a sliced watermelon (here the pitch of the siren was very high), even footage of an open-heart surgery. Needless to say, it kind of disturbed me.

After the heart surgery scene (it was very up close) I kept my head down. He then went on to say that he's speaking to the artists... we who suffer for our art, and whose drive is something so compelling, it's destiny. I rolled my eyes. Oh, he's one of those artists.

But as the lecture went on it got more and more personal. He often went back to the theme of humanity and what humanity is and how everything in the world recycles itself, from trees to energy in the air to DVD players. What surprised (and delighted me) is the fact that he didn't diss technology like many other contemporary artists (of the non-commercial art scene) did. He told us that the intention of the user is the most important aspect of technology - it's neither good nor bad in and of itself, rather it is just a tool, just like paint is, just like clay is. Okay, I like this guy.

After all the doom and gloom of artistic suffering having to do your art by facing the darkest depths of your soul, he became much more optimistic. He's very optimistic about human nature, which is a HUGE sigh of relief after hearing everyone say how much of a failure humanity is—guys, it takes guts to think so optimistically, and even more to actually spread the word—it takes heart. It's all too easy to be cynical.

The final works he showed us were two videos of a man and a woman stepping through a wall of water and looking at the camera... he did a lot of work that just concentrated on people. That kind of thing unnerves me, when the camera's so still and the motions are so slow... it makes me think something will pop out and scare me. But it was very... nice. I found myself focusing on the body language of the people, their facial expressions and the pain, joy, and sorrow they all possessed. That was his point. Humanity is more than our technology and logistics and politics... it's about emotion, relation, and connection.

So I walked out of that room feeling very good about myself... even forgetting about the pumping heart from the video (ew, sort of). This happens to me all the time: most big things I have a bad first impression about end up being very good later. Every time that happens, it reminds me to keep my mind open about everything, and every time, I never can.

But I suppose that's what makes them all the more beautiful.

In summarizing my experience of his lecture, I didn't do it justice, nothing can.
Go visit his website, it's... it was never my kind of art, but it's beautiful.


Lauren Ashley said...

That's great!! I'm glad it ended up being good experience!!

My friend Phillip does similar work... it's strange, really... how unnerving yet beautiful it all is.


Russkitai said...

You meet the coolest people at your school :(

I mean, :)