Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bill Viola's chunks of wisdom

"[The artist mission is to] transform experience into the tangible.
~Bill Viola

I feel like a jerk for not having known who Bill Viola was before his visit to Lawrence University. It only occurred to me what a big deal his presence here was when a large group of townies appeared at the first video screening in the Wriston Auditorium. I attended the screening with them, and was immediately struck by Viola’s command of the medium. (I can’t recall the title of the first film, but it was part of the series “Vision as Reception”). He clearly knows what he’s doing, and conveys his messages in a vivid visual manner. 

If only his lectures could be as coherent as his films. Viola’s lecture, titles “Artless Art,” had the metaphorical consistency of cottage cheese: little chunks of wisdom suspended in a strange colloid of discontinuity. However, one of the chunks of Bill Viola’s lecture that resonated most with me was when he addressed the audience, saying, “artists, be honest with yourself in the deepest way possible.” As someone who values genuine intent and emotion in both my own and other’s art, this statement struck a chord with me. 

I was grateful for the footage that played in the background, because it acted as the glue that held the experience together. In particular, I enjoyed the film of the man plunging into water in slow motion (pictured above). Viola claimed that the piece was a representation of the soul leaving the body as the bubbles floated upward, and the body down. I interpreted it differently, seeing a cleaning of sin from conscience. That's the beauty of art: the variation of meaning as intended by the artist and as interpreted by viewer.

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