Expressing Experience – Investigating the Work of Bill Viola

5 02 2008

Vision as reception.

Vision as reflection.

Vision as projection.

(Viola. 1994. p146.)


Media Art, in its possession of new technologies of time and image, maintains a special possibility of speaking directly in the language of our time, but in its capacity as art, it has an even greater potential to address the deeper questions and mysteries of the human condition. This is the challenge to the media arts at the turning point of our century (Viola. 1994. p257.)

The issue that I am tackling within my practice is capturing the act of ‘experience’ through Digital Art. I explore this medium, though its possibilities of integrating sound, image, time and space, as a platform for embodying how it is we experience and understand the world through our five senses. My practice is not concerned with the event, or why the event happened, but with how we experience this event, and how it is that our consciousness becomes aware of it.

The common criticism of this practice, of embodying experience within art, is that there is no theoretical basis for it. As Bill Viola says:

There is still a strong mistrust in intellectual circles about things which speak to the mind via the body. It’s as if they can see that this direction will ultimately lead to opening the locked gate to the forbidden zone of the deep emotional energies. In my opinion, the emotions are precisely the missing key. (Viola. 1994. p242)

He contests that perhaps it is actually through emotion, that the viewer will be able to see.


Through this work, he juxtaposes birth, life and death. By playing with contrasts, and getting pieces of time to sit side by side within one space, he brings the viewer to the present moment. Before the audience is the beginning, the middle and the end. Seeing all three, one does not experience just one emotion, but all of it at once.

The question is, why can’t we bring up emotion in critical discourse today? Why is it so taboo to speak about the things that we all experience? Why must art be limited to the intellectual mind? Viola suggests that perhaps it is because these great themes in human life are not owned by any ‘Institution’ and therefore cannot be commodified and weighed. He criticizes contemporary art by saying:

Critical Discourse today in art…does not encompass the very, very human qualities of our emotional lives. You never hear love coming up in critical discourse today. (Viola.1994.p176)


Another argument regarding experience being in the domain of critical art practice is how one quantify and express such an ephemeral thing. With the technologies available to us today, through cross-fertilization of software, the possibilities are boundless. Through the sensory, it is possible.

The five senses are not individual things but, integrated with the mind, they form a total system and create this field, an experiential field which is the basis of conscious awareness. This is the only true whole image (Viola. 1994. p268.)


Through multi-sensory and interactive work, this vision is possible. Through ‘contemplative vision,’ where in one becomes acutely aware of light, sound, space and time within a given environment and situation, an awareness is formed that can be expressed through Digital Media (Viola. 1994. p119.) This is something I hope to achieve with my work.




One response

24 01 2011
Stomach Bloating

.`~ I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information *.:

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