Living works by Bill Viola in the Stone Forest of Gaudi

Silence, shadows, screens. In the exhibition of video artist Bill Viola there are no museum objects or displays. The screens hanging on the walls, in which you can see portraits and landscapes, represent the digitally born cultural heritage that cannot be touched, only felt.

To feel the atmosphere created by the organizers in full depth, you have to stop, go slowly, without hurrying. The feeling of being in a sacred place is created. The mystical living paintings are found among the leaning columns of Gaudí. Two creators, two artistic languages that in melting together create a unique experience that consists of brushing eternity and the mysterious.

Today, video has become the language of our millennium: we see moving images on our televisions, our mobiles, in cinemas, on YouTube, on networks, in advertising posters or on videomappings of our streets. Video art is also a video but it lacks commercial or entertainment purposes. These are artistic scripts, with deep meaning, that serve to convey a certain idea: the concept of the author.

Often video art is aimed at a prepared audience. The works of Bill Viola do not require a special interpretation. They are simple, easy to understand and arouse the interest of a very diverse audience. The proof of this is the great exhibition, organized by the MoMA a few years ago, in which the average time that the spectators spent watching the video works was calculated and it turned out that they practically lasted for two and a half hours.

The works of Bill Viola provoke a different reception in each viewer since the themes chosen by the video artist are universal but treated from different points of view: the transience of time, birth, love, pain, losses, death or rebirth.

The desire of the artist to experiment, using the latest audiovisual technologies, has allowed his works to remain current and sought after for four decades. From the first videos recorded in the initial stages, with a small handheld camera, to today’s large installations, his works are exhibited in the most important museums in the world, as well as airports and even churches.

The exhibition “Bill Viola. Mirrors of the Unseen”, presented in La Pedrera, begins with a work that shows us a great shot of the artist’s face. Next to it, a counter, with a nine-digit number, keeps track of the number of inhalations and exhalations of his breathing. Through such a simple installation, the artist shows us that life is nothing more than an inhalation and exhalation of air. A continuous alternation.

Source: Irina Grevtsova

The next work is the video projection entitled “Reflective pool”. Perhaps, it is the most known and significant work by the video artist. It has made a special impression on me, especially because of the story the accompanies it.

As a child, when Bill was on vacation with his parents in the mountains, he fell into the water. At that time, he still couldn’t swim. While they were looking for him, finding himself under the surface of the water, he experienced unforgettable sensations that were permanently etched in his memory. According to him, he was not afraid. He was calm and peaceful, observing what was going on around him: twinkling images and reflections. This incident and the sensations experienced is a constant theme that has been expressed in many of his works throughout his life.

The “Reflective Pool” shows the appearance of man from the world of nature, his life and his departure. Water symbolizes the border between appearance and reality, between life and death. Recorded with a grainy effect, the video of the shady pool, invaded by dense vegetation which is reflected on the surface of the water, attracts its mysteriousness and mysticism.

On the right side of this installation, we can see three portraits of two women and a man framed on small screens. Their naturalness is stunning. Each of the characters expresses, consecutively, one of the four main emotions: joy, sadness, anger and fear.

The characters are so still and static that they look like photographs. The video images, recorded in one shot, were displayed in slow motion and last 82 minutes. According to the authors, to see the change in facial expression you have to be distracted, look away for a while and look again. Only then can the difference be appreciated.

“The Quintet of the Astonished”. Source: Fundació Catalunya-La Pedrera

The video work “The Quintet of the Astonished” (2000), is located at the back of the room. It is a large-scale video whose argument comes from the medieval painting “The Crowning with Thorns” painted by Bosch. As in the painting, five characters appear in the video. They are located next to each other and very close together. At first, everyone is calm and the expression of their faces and their postures are neutral. After some time, the appearance of the whole group begins to change and we see how the laughs are followed by tears. Each of the characters has their own way of expressing their emotions. Thanks to the slow reproduction of the recorded images, we can observe the smallest, almost indiscernible changes in their gestures and postures.

The video work that has impressed me most has been “Three women” (2008). This video has three characters: a mother and two of her daughters.

“Three women”. Source: Irina Grevtsova

The script is developed as follows: we see three very confusing silhouettes in the distance. They begin approaching very slowly towards us and they get bigger and more precise with each passing moment. At a certain moment, we notice that only a very thin curtain of water separates us from them. Passing through it, they enter our world. Now we can see their faces in detail. They don’t stay long in our world. In silence, they look around and, one after one, they leave again.

The argument chosen gives the work an enigmatic and fascinating atmosphere. Water is the metaphor that symbolizes the transience of time.

Visiting Bill Viola’s exhibition, we travel into our interior, we immerse ourselves in the world of our own experiences and sensations. For millennials and Instagrammers, the exhibition is an invaluable source of new ideas and techniques for digital stories and storytelling.

Bill Viola’s exhibition will remain in La Pedrera until January 5, 2020 and 20 more works will be exhibited throughout Catalonia in early December. It is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the creative world of the video artist and travel a route of experiences in discovering some of our most emblematic spaces.