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Bill Viola (b.1951) is considered a pioneer in the medium of video art and is internationally recognized as one of today’s leading artists. He has been instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art, and in so doing has helped to greatly expand its scope in terms of technology, content, and historical reach. For over 35 years he has created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast. Viola’s video installations—total environments that envelop the viewer in image and sound—employ state-of-the-art technologies and are distinguished by their precision and direct simplicity. They are shown in museums and galleries worldwide and are found in many distinguished collections. His single channel videotapes have been widely broadcast and presented cinematically, while his writings have been extensively published, and translated for international readers. Viola uses video to explore the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge. His works focus on universal human experiences—birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness—and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism. Using the inner language of subjective thoughts and collective memories, his videos communicate to a wide audience, allowing viewers to experience the work directly, and in their own personal way.
Bill Viola received his BFA in Experimental Studios from Syracuse University in 1973. During the 1970s he lived for 18 months in Florence, Italy, as technical director of production for Art/Tapes/22, one of the first video art studios in Europe, and then traveled widely to study and record traditional performing arts in the Solomon Islands, Java, Bali, and Japan. From 1973 to 1980 he performed with avant-garde composer David Tudor as a member of his Rainforest ensemble. In 1977 Viola was invited to show his videotapes at La Trobe University (Melbourne, Australia) by cultural arts director Kira Perov who, a year later, joined him in New York where they married and began a lifelong collaboration working and traveling together. In 1980, they lived in Japan for a year and a half on a Japan/U.S. cultural exchange fellowship where they studied Buddhism with Zen Master Daien Tanaka and became the first artist-in-residence at Sony Corporation’s Atsugi research laboratories. Viola and Perov have recorded mirages in the Sahara desert, studied animal consciousness at the San Diego Zoo, made a photographic study of Native American rock art sites, traveled for 5 months in the American Southwest recording nocturnal desert landscapes with special cameras, and most recently went to Dharamsala, India to record a prayer blessing with the Dalai Lama.
Three major installations and videotapes were shown in New York at the Museum of Modern Art in 1987, and Viola’s first large exhibition of works toured six venues in Europe beginning in 1992, organized by Kira Perov and the Kunsthalle Dusseldorf. Viola represented the U.S. at the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995, premiering an ensemble of five new installation works titled Buried Secrets. In 1997 the Whitney Museum of American Art organized Bill Viola: A 25-Year Survey, an exhibition that traveled for two years to six museums in the United States and Europe. Viola was invited to be a Scholar at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles in 1998, and later that year created a suite of three new video pieces for the rock group Nine Inch Nails’ world tour. His 1994 video Deserts, created to accompany the music composition of the same name by Edgard Varese, premiered at the Wien Modern, Konzerthaus, Vienna with Peter Eotvos conducting the Ensemble Modern, and has since been presented by many other orchestras in live performance. In 2002, Viola completed his most ambitious project, Going Forth By Day, a five part projected digital “fresco” cycle in High-Definition video, commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and the Guggenheim Museum, New York. Bill Viola: The Passions was exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles in 2003 then traveled to the National Gallery, London, the Fondacion “La Caixa” in Madrid and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. One of the largest exhibition of Viola’s installations to date, Bill Viola: Hatsu-Yume (First Dream) (October 26, 2006-January 8, 2007), drew over 340,000 visitors to the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. A reduced version of the exhibition travels to the Hyogo Prefectural Museum in Kobe, Japan, where it opens on January 23, 2007. In 2004 Viola began collaborating with director Peter Sellars, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and executive producer Kira Perov to create a new production of Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde, which was presented in project form by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in December 2004. The complete opera received its world premiere at the Opera National de Paris, Bastille in April 2005 with a reprise in November. The concert version will be presented once more at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in April 2007, and at Avery Fisher Hall, New York, in May 2007, produced by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Viola is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1989, and the first Medienkunstpreis in 1993, presented jointly by Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, and Siemens Kulturprogramm, in Germany. He holds honorary doctorates from Syracuse University (1995), The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1997), California Institute of the Arts (2000), and Royal College of Art, London (2004) among others, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000. In 2006 he was awarded Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government. Bill Viola and Kira Perov, his wife and long-time collaborator, live and work in Long Beach, California.
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