Four Songs, 1976

NTSC, sound, colour

These four songs evidence a certain number of patterns and themes inherent in Bill Viola's work as a whole: song, texture, materialisation of memory, surpassing of the apparent limits of human perception, set in unlimited time in a unique space; separation-union of body and mind, cyclic appearance-disappearance which structure an imaginary, unifying field between birth and death

Junkyard Levitation (3'11)
Here, Bill Viola's body is the nucleus, the fixed point, the immovable reflexive centre, surrounded by an infinitesimal, permanent movement. A gigantic magnet, off the screen, whose shadow projected on the ground can sometimes be perceived, causes the surface of waste ground strewn with metal to "levitate" in front of a railway track. While the man's body remains stretched out on a horizontal plane, the ground around him rises up, thus expressing internal body movements and its spiritual energy.

Songs of Innocence (9'34)
Songs of Innocence is a childhood song with two parts. A choir on the verdant school lawn is singing a nursery rhyme. The light on this "idyllic" scene fails progressively and covers it with night. Only a flame and a nearby unidentifiable object remain after the departure of the children whose trace is still visible. At this point the ghost-like bodies of the choir reappear, are superimposed in the night's transparency as spirits and play the childhood scene over again. Between silence and darkness, day and night, a bouquet of orchids and the flame on the ground mark this empty space with funereal reminiscence like a tomb.

Space Between the Teeth (9'10)
This work is again in two parts, two distinct spaces with the transition taking place from the image of the manifest body to that of the profound body. Space Between the Teeth is based on a quasi-mathematical strategy of perception. Bill Viola is sitting in an enclosed space and is looking at us fixedly. Suddenly, he screams, then again and again. The camera moves back to discover an interminable corridor. It finally comes to rest. The man screams and each scream, at regular intervals, causes the camera to move forward in fits and starts until it reaches the dark space, which the man has between his teeth. After each movement forward, it jerks back to a point closer and closer to the man. Each time we penetrate into this space between his teeth another image appears, imperceptible at first. The closer we get to the man, the larger the displacement. Very quickly a kitchen appears, a breakfast table. The length of each shot is soon reversed between the two spaces, giving more importance to the familiar image of the kitchen where the man comes in and goes out, turns a tap on to get water. Again in the corridor, the camera has taken up its original distant position. One last scream petrifies the image into a minute Polaroid, which falls into the sea and is swept away by a wave. This work unfolds and closes up the space and time of perception and contracts for the duration of a scream into a fixed image, a sensitive plate that poses the problem of the idea of reality and the moment.

Truth Through the Mass Individuation (10'13)
Here the artist's own body serves as the subject of experimentation and research into the representation of time, its audible image and the spatiotemporal position of man in the world: a simple, distant luminous point, lost in the immensity of a phase, an element of nature merging into the midst of rocks and trees, immensely small in space or immensely large in time, by the echo that his movements or cries generate. Bill Viola takes inspiration from the writings of Carl Jung on the relationships of the individual to the group; he captures the energy of each thing - a tension, a latent violence. He amplifies each movement by using slow motion in a vision wider than that of our daily awareness and restores to us, with simple gestures and short elemeenes, an inner, clearly subjective world in which all the values linked to the perception of reality are overturned.

Stéphanie Moisdon