Born in 1951 in (United States)
Lives and works in (United States )
In 1969, Bill Viola joined the art department of Syracuse University in New York. In 1970, he began working with video in the context of the activities of the Syracuse Students' Union. The following year, in the experimental studios department, he met Professor Jack Nelson who would greatly influence his work and that of a whole generation of experimental artists. During this period, Bill Viola became a member of the Synapse video group at Syracuse University, where he designed and installed a cable television system and learned sound engineering skills. He then became the technical assistant in the video department at the Everson Museum in Syracuse and collaborated with the curator David Ross.
In 1972, he made his first video, Wild Horses, and worked as exhibition assistant for Nam June Paik and Peter Campus. In 1973, he obtained the BFA diploma from the College of Visual Arts and Entertainment at Syracuse University. The same year, his participation in the New Musics workshop at Chocorua (New Hampshire) enabled him to study music with the composer David Tudor and began collaborating with him in the Composers Inside Electronic group. With this group, he staged several sound performances throughout the world. 1.
In 1972, Bill Viola had his first exhibition in the United States (Instant Replay). Two years later, in Europe, he presented the video installation Trapped Moments at the Impact Artevideo exhibition in the Musée d'Art Décoratif at Lausanne (Switzerland).
From 1974 to 1976, Bill Viola was the technical production director at the Art / Tapes / 22 Video Studio in Florence (Italy), which gave him the opportunity to work with European and American artists such as Giulio Paolini, Janis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas and Terry Fox. He got to know the sound engineer Bob Bielecki, with whom he later collaborated on a project recording sounds underwater. In 1977, he became the director of cultural activities at Trobe University in Melbourne (Australia).
Bill Viola was very interested in oriental philosophies and the cultural diversity of the countries that he discovered during his trips throughout the world. The pictures that he took during his travels would be reused in his video tapes. In 1976, he left for the Solomon Islands (South Pacific) with the aim of recording traditional music and dance. In 1977, in Java (Indonesia), he studied the traditional entertainment arts with the American ethnomusicologist Alex Dea. In 1979, he recorded winter on the prairies in Canada. He then went to Tunisia to film the mirages in the Sahara desert - images which would later be used in the video tape Chott el-Djerid. In 1980, thanks to a grant from the Japan / U.S. Friendship Commission, he spent eighteen months in Japan to study traditional Japanese culture and the new video technologies. There, he studied with the painter and Zen master Tanaka Daien. In Ladakh in the Himalayas in 1982, he observed the rituals and religious arts in the Buddhist monasteries. In the Fiji Islands in 1984, he filmed the Hindu fire-walking ceremony. In 1987, he travelled through the American Southwest for five months to study native archaeology and film desert landscapes.
En 1992, Bill Viola produced a series of video installations (Threshold, Heaven and Earth, Nantes Triptych, etc.) in which he developed, through the theme of passage, a discussion of the human condition, birth and death. His installations were designed so that the work was perceived by the spectator as a real-life experience.
Bill Viola was the artist in residence notably at the WNET / Thirteen Television Laboratory in New York (1976-1980la Sony Corporation's Atsugi Research Laboratories in Japan (1981), the Memorial Medical Center in Long Beach (1983) and San Diego Zoo (1984).
The first retrospective of his work was organized in the United States in 1982 by the Whitney Museum in New York, followed by one in Europe in 1983 by the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. There are works of his in the collections of the most prestigious institutions (the Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Tate Gallery in London, etc.).
In 1995, Bill Viola was awarded the "Guggenheim grant" and in 1987 he received the "Maya Deren Award" from the American Film Institute. In 1993 in Germany, he also received the "Medienkunstpreis" from the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie and the Siemens Kulturprogramm. In 1995 and 1997, he was awarded the honorary title of Doctor of Fine Arts by both Syracuse University and the Institute of Art in Chicago.
Throughout his career, Bill Viola has succeeded in the most sophisticated techniques in his research on perception by the human eye. Sound is also fundamental in his work: "I have always thought that sound contained much more information about space than the image"2 Bill Viola is among the artists who have most influenced the development of video as an art from the 1970s until the present day.
Nayara Gil Condé
1 In the United States: Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse (1974), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1975), Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis (1976), Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphie (1979); in France: Festival d'Automne, Paris (1976 and 1977); in Japan: Tokyo International Video Art Exhibition (1978), Fog Sculpture - A Fog, Sound and Light Festival, Kawaji Onsen (1980); in Germany: Berlin Festival (1980).
2 Said by Bill Viola during an interview published in Libération, Paris, 25th March 1983.