Performer Norman Scott in Bill Viola's 2014 rendition of Inverted Birth.



A Hot Minute with Video Art Pioneer Bill Viola

A few decades ago, it was all but decided that the contemporary-video-turned-fine-art trend wouldn’t last. That was, of course, prior to Bill Viola’s revolutionary use of the medium, in which he turned the art world upside down with his artistic expression. Nowadays, it’s impossible to experience Bill Viola’s work without transcending to a whole new level of self-reflectionhis art forces us to really think. Whether that means birth, death, consciousness, and the meaning behind life itself, it’s the combined visual and auditory elements that take internalization to the next level.

It should come as no surprise, then, that his Inverted Birth installation shot to the top of our must-see Art Basel roster at lightning speed as soon as we heard it was coming to Miami. In honor of its opening tonight at Mana Wynwood, here’s an intimate preview via an interview with the artist himself.

As someone who’s been a pioneer of video art, do you think everything will be digital moving forward?

I cannot predict what will be in the future, but there is no going back from the digital explosion. Virtual Reality is now taking a hold on the use of images and who knows where that will lead. We seem to be replicating our world in every detail, perhaps anticipating extinctions in the natural world.

Who’s your favorite living artist? Why?

William Kentridge is an extraordinary artist, a humanist, and a strong and compassionate commentator on the human condition.

Are you looking forward to any parties at Art Basel?

Kira and I have not had time to think about this; we just opened an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and so will not stay long in Miami.

Can you tell us about the decision to use live music in your installation?

I have very rarely created video for live presentation with music, three times in fact: Déserts (1994) with the music of the same title by Edgard Varèse, commissioned by the Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt; three songs for Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails Fragility tour in 2000; and four hours of video for Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, in a new production by Peter Sellars, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. My installations do not include music. If there is sound, it is recorded natural sounds or sound created by me.

For the presentation at Mana, my piece Inverted Birth (2014) is shown after the Mozart violin concerto, not during the concert.

How do you remedy a creative block?

In 1991 I had a bad creative block, and then my mother passed away. I was forced to complete a piece for television in the middle of this tragedy, and this event broke the cycle of not being able to work. When I looked back at that period, I realized that in fact I had spent a lot of time reading and writing, so in fact I believe it was necessary for inputting and not outputting.

What do you do before openings? Do you have a ritual? 

No, I don’t have any ritual, if all the work has been done carefully and well, then I look forward to the celebration.

Images courtesy of Kira Perov. 

Stay tuned to Milk for more insight from inside Art Basel 2k16. 

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