The Video Art of Bill Viola

Griffin Oleynick at Commonweal:

Viola’s film I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like (1986), its title a loose translation of a Sanskrit verse from the Rig-Veda, serves as the intellectual and spiritual touchstone of the exhibit. Eighty-nine minutes long, it unfolds as a wordless odyssey, an epic quest for self-understanding and transcendence that ranges from mountain lakes and underground caves to grassy fields and remote islands. Viola contemplates the cryptic gazes of wild animals (mostly fish and birds, but also a pair of bison, a zebra, and an elephant); takes us inside his studio (playfully modeled on seventeenth-century Dutch still-lifes); leads us through an intense, violent sequence filled with split-second flashes of lightning, crowded highways, and roaring flames; then drops us down in the middle of a raucous firewalking ritual in Fiji, the soundtrack filled with beating drums and wailing wind instruments. The film concludes in a forest, close to the lake where we began.

These different settings, and their varied imagery, may seem disconnected, but in fact they’re all one, intertwined like threads of a tapestry. It’s the medium of video that enables us to perceive their unity, as the camera’s capacity to compress and extend time (by speeding up and slowing down), and to grow and shrink the visual field (by zooming in and out), mimics the workings of the human mind.

more here.