Bill Viola is a contemporary video artist whose artistic expression depends upon electronic, sound, and image technology in New Media. His works focus on the ideas behind fundamental human experiences such as birth, death and aspects of consciousness.
Ever since Bill Viola first pitched up in Florence as a 23-year-old film technician in 1974, there has been a certain inevitability that 45 years on he would end up here, sharing a mostly hushed and dimly lit Royal Academy with Michelangelo. Viola was in Italy back then working in a studio patronised by some of the pioneers of video art – including Nam June Paik and Bruce Nauman – but he was also encountering for the first time the work of Renaissance painters face-to-face in the city’s churches, an experience that he later described as something like “total immersion” for him.
- Discuss how Viola’s work can be understood as an alternative to paintings. Think about the medium he uses (video) and how it contrasts with painting. Why do you think his exhibition at the RA also included works by Michelangelo.
- What do you think are the elements within Viola’s work that define it? Think technically and conceptually. Create individual work that shows each element.
- What connections can you make between art and religion? What place do each have in society? How has their function changed over time? Are they both relevant and meaningful?
- What is expressed through the language of video and particularly slow-motion video? What is conveyed by using this particular method?