Bill Viola

Bill Viola

Cameras are Soul Keepers

When video artist Bill Viola was 6 years old he fell into a lake, all the way to the bottom, to a place which seemed like paradise. "There's more than just the surface of life." Viola explains. "The real things are under the surface".

American Bill Viola (born 1951) is a pioneer in video art. In this interview, Viola talks about his development as an artist and his most important breakthroughs. As a child Bill Viola felt that the world inside his head was more real than the outside word. Viola discovered video in 1969. The blue light from the first camera he experienced reminded him of the water in that beautiful lake he almost died in when he was 6.

The first video piece Viola did on his own was "Tape I" from 1972, when he was still at university. Viola replaced the university art theories with his own secret underground path, through Islamic mystics, to Buddhism, to Christianity and finally to St John of the Cross. It was a very liberating experience for him, when he first started calling his artworks what they actually were to him.

Viola once felt that home videos should be kept separate to his artwork, but the sorrow of his mother's death, and the difficulty of understanding this transition from life to "disappearance", slowly changed his point of view. He realized that things could not be kept separate. Viola now sees the cameras as keepers of the soul, he explains. The medium holds onto life, a kind of understanding of feelings, keeping them alive.

Bill Viola was interviewed by Christian Lund, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, in London, 2011.

Camera: Marie Friis
Grading: Honey Biba Beckerlee
Edited by Martin Kogi
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2013

Supported by Nordea-fonden

  • Cathrine Raben Davidsen

    Paintings of Loss

    Artist Cathrine Raben Davidsen was only 13 years old when she lost her father. “I started making art because I lacked words. Art was my way of dealing with loss.” Meet an artist whose work is a meditation on loss, both personal and societal.

  • 8 Artists on Sound

    Captivating, agonizing, nostalgic – sound can induce a plethora of experiences. In video artist Bill Viola’s words: “like angels, sound can cross between the physical and the nonphysical world.” Hear how he and 7 other artists inhabit the sonic world.

  • Linn Ullmann

    At That Point it Became Possible to Write

    “Subterfuge is very liberating. It helps you be as truthful as you can.” Award-winning writer Linn Ullmann discusses memory and autobiography on the occasion of her latest novel, which treats the relationship between herself and her famous parents.

  • Carlos Cruz-Diez

    The Colours We Create

    “I always say that I do not make paintings or sculptures, I make support for events.” Follow Carlos Cruz-Diez, leading figure in Op Art since the 1960s, into a world of chromatic experience.

  • Carlos Cruz-Diez

    Advice to the Young

    Franco-Venezuelan artist Carloz Cruz-Diez has a lifetime of advice saved up for young artists – even though they may not want to listen. “They should do what I did: try to invent art and new discourses.”

  • Karl Ove Knausgård

    Literature Should be Ruthless

    Karl Ove Knausgård has enchanted the literary world with ‘My Struggle’, a novel of more than 3000 pages about his own life. Watch the star author discuss literature, writing and how his autobiographical style is closely connected to fiction.

  • Ann Veronica Janssens

    Passion for Light

    Step into the laboratory of an artist whose main material is light. Whether solid, liquid or gaseous Ann Veronica Janssens uses light in all its forms “to show the manifestations of reality in a different way.”

  • Athi-Patra Ruga

    A Glimpse of Utopia

    “Somehow resistance is what validates an identity. Growing up gay, black and non-Christian, it kind of is something I love playing with.” Athi-Patra Ruga's sensuous work makes us question everyday life.

  • Catherine Opie

    A World Beyond Selfies

    “I was never an optimist in thinking that my images would change laws. But I certainly thought that I would be able to create a history.” Catherine Opie, photographer of minority groups and subcultures, can be both political and very internal.

  • Peaches

    Love Your Vagina

    ”It’s most important right now that men be feminists. If women say they aren’t it’s only because the word is not relating to them and we need to find new terms.” Electronic musician and performance artist Peaches wants us to question norms.

  • Alex Da Corte & Jørgen Leth

    Eminem and Warhol

    Two American icons portrayed eating. Young Alex Da Corte, who impersonated Eminem for a year, was inspired by film director Jørgen Leth, who made an iconic scene with Andy Warhol. Here they meet on stage to talk about the stunning parallels.

  • Tomas Espedal Meets

    Karl Ove Knausgård

    For the first time ever the two giants in Scandinavian literature, Norwegian writers Tomas Espedal and Karl Ove Knausgård, meet on stage – about writing their autobiographical novels where you "have to proceed even though you feel the danger."