Bill Viola on going to the edge.

a perspective

Bill Viola’s career is a story of the development of a video art. While studying painting and electronic music he discovered video and transferred to the Experimental Studios Department and worked on was a founding member a video art group, Synapse. For the past four decades, Bill has kept a personal journal that he writes in every morning. There are now 40 volumes filled with thoughts, projects and drawings.

The artist has cited influences as wide-ranging as the mystical (Saint Jean de la Croix to Jalal al-Din Rumi), the philosophical (Greek philosophers to the American Indian Seneca Chief), poetic (Japanese Zen monks to William Blake) and artistic (Buddhist frescoes at Alchi to Italian Renaissance painters).

“I first touched a video camera in 1970. Video and I grew up together.

This was an extraordinary moment in history, for those of us who were just arriving. We were studying these machines and trying to figure out what they did and how they worked. But it was not only the technical aspects that we were interested in. We were free. We just saw infinity, infinite possibilities. We were creating video art from the beginning, from scratch.

As the equipment improved over the years, I was able to see some of my pieces finally shown the way that I had envisioned them. And new tools, especially projectors and flat screens, gave me new inspiration, and constantly expanded my palette.

I think the most important thing is; how can we make the video camera see inside our mind the stuff that we cannot see with our eyes?

In the universe, there is no single speed of life. All is in flux. That is one of the most important things we have to work on. We have to let the intuitive side of us come out because it’s locked up.

The way I do my work is to develop everything up to a certain point and then step back and not complete it in any absolute way. This is the openness I learned when I was living in Japan. If you don’t do that, then you’ve created a self-contained reality just for yourself. The artist’s work is to find something that’s a little on the border, not completely known.

The most important thing human beings can do in their lives is to leave something behind. People who came before have left behind something that gives us knowledge. Creativity exists in all human beings; it transcends time and place and it arises from the practice of making something new from something old. Art is the universal language of mankind. I firmly believe that it is especially needed in this day and age of conflict, strife and misunderstanding. It is kept alive by the human presence within all material creations, including video and computers. All art is contemporary art and is born in radical new ideas. And right now for artists out there, we are living in an extraordinary time unprecedented in the history of art. Right now you have the widest range of media styles, techniques and languages to express your inner vision that has ever existed in the history of art-making on this planet. But you still have to tear down something to build something up. It’s what you risk, what you put in to, what you sacrifice from yourself to get that deep. And all the great artists go to that edge.

I don’t own my videos. They are something that comes through me as a complete gift and they continue to move. These works are moving out to you, what you are and who you are is coming into me and I can feel that, and that kind of passage of things continually moving and flowing is really the essence of who we are. That is our task as human beings: to pass on knowledge.”