Bill Viola: The Father of Video Art

SLIDESHOW: A selection of stills of Viola’s video art.

From March to July 2017, Bill Viola, the father of video art, will take over the whole of the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence for a major retrospective.

For Bill Viola, time, as we know it, is used to alter our perception. Through a time-based medium, the self-professed ‘time sculptor’ has changed the way we experience and view creative language, that is art.

Dubbed the father of video art, Viola has had nearly half-a-century worth of experience in creating stanzas of pictorial poems — typically in the form of moving-image and sound installations for museums, concerts, operas and sacred spaces.

But back in the 1970s, when Viola first picked up a video camera and recorder, the rents for this new-fangled equipment were at a premium. Thankfully, the US National Endowment for the Arts awarded individual grants for projects back then, and with such support, as well as commissions from television stations, Viola and his team not only survived but succeeded through time. “It is different today. That kind of funding does not exist anymore, but then, you can also make a video on your phone,” says Viola, who turns 66 this year.

His latest project takes him to Florence. His enduring digital art will be juxtaposed against masterpieces of the Renaissance period in an exhibition held at Palazzo Strozzi. Viola explains: “Arturo Galansino, director of the Palazzo Strozzi, was interested in presenting the influence of Florence and the Renaissance on my existing works. My paternal family is Italian, and I worked in Florence for three years in the mid-1970s.

“Some of the works selected for the exhibition were directly influenced by paintings from the Renaissance. [Galansino], eager to include the Old Master paintings, managed to negotiate their loan so they could be shown for the first time with their video counterparts.”

Asked about new art arenas or genres, Viola says: “I cannot tell what will come next, but developments in virtual reality are expanding. What becomes successful in the commercial world, artists will often find a way of using as their tools, pushing the boundaries and leading the way.

“Remember, these are just the tools, the real work lies inside,” says Viola.“I knew [video] was my medium, and having gone to formal art classes and not having done too well, this opened up a whole new world of art-making for me. Time and space became part of my palette and I immediately began experimenting with the manipulation of both.”

Viola thinks art in any medium is appropriate for today’s society, but what separates him is that his video presentations often address the larger questions of life — birth, death, the unfolding of human consciousness — and give the perceiver time for self-reflection.

He says: “Our time is very often spent in a hurry, in stress, and our private moments taken up by social media, so the gift of time — to slow down, to think, to ask — is precious.”

For more information about the installation, click here.

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