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Bill Viola - Interview With Video Artist

Bill Viola - Interview With Video Artist

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Transcript of the John Tusa Interview with video artist Bill Viola At first glance the image looks

motionless, it's on a high definition plasma screen of course, but the stillness of the face or the group or the surface of the water is visually familiar, then as you look the image moves fractionally, very, very slowly, hypnotically. And the faces break into the deepest of emotions, the groups create a kind of balletic interplay between the individuals The water is disrupted by bodies plunging in or triumphantly emerging. You continue looking as each incremental movement creates it's own point of drama, not as an isolated moment, but as a continuum of experience. Is that a slowed down film or a moving image? Neither, it's a video piece by the American artist Bill Viola. There's no one quite like him, one critic has called him the Rembrandt of video art, another has credited him with re-inventing the language of art no less, others though have queried whether Viola, a Californian devoted to Buddhism, Sufism, and Christian Mysticism, offers more than vacant exaltation and fast food spirituality. Viola has reached this position at the age of only 51. He has more than a hundred works behind him. The first work that really brought him wide acclaim in Britain was the Nantes Triptych of 1992 - three large side-by-side screens, showing a woman in labour, a man submerged in water and the face of the artists' mother as she lay dying. The shock of his parents' death wrenched Viola's work, onto a new level of intensity and personal awareness, and that piece is in Tate Modern. In 1996 he created a single work for Durham Cathedral, where a naked human form appears from the depths of the water, breaks surface, draws in breath and then sinks back. Typically for England , more fuss was made about the nakedness of the body, than about the spiritual significance of the image. By now Viola was well into the exploration of themes of spiritual and universal experience. Last year his show at the D'Offay Gallery, in London 's West End , revealed works of extraordinary emotional range. From the quietism of Catherine's Room, to the visual and aural intensity of Five Angels for the Millennium. There, five bodies erupt from the depths of the water. Ah, water, a running obsessive theme, explained apparently by the artist so near death from drowning as a young boy. In Berlin his latest and most ambitious work is called Going Forth by Day, a projected image cycle in five parts lasting 35 minutes. The five parts deal with birth and fire, the Path, an endless journey through life, the Deluge when a physical cataclysm overcomes the order of everyday life. The Voyage, of death and rebirth, and First Light, with a moment of pure ecstatic renewal at its climax. It's Viola's most ambitious work, both as an artist and as a film director. ____________________________________________________ But let's go back to the beginning. There was no art in your home, so where did the impulse for the visual come from? Well, I would have to say, I was born with it. The family story that was told to me was, I was sitting with my mother one day when I was just about three years old and she was trying to draw things on a piece of paper for me and I apparently wrenched the pencil away from her and drew an almost perfect speedboat, with the bow cresting up above the waves and everybody was astonished and my mother kept this picture. When I got to kindergarten the teacher was already singling out my paintings and drawings to put up in front of the class and on the walls and pretty much was always an artist in that way in terms of the visual. And you did drawings ten feet long as a child didn't you? Yeah, I invented this planet that was inhabited by humans and of course aliens, I forget the name of it... oh it was called "Clamph" and I started drawing the landscape of it, in a kind of a horizontal almost oriental scroll like way, and I kept adding with sticky tape more and more sheets of paper, until I was out at about ten feet and then I had the great idea, if I do say so myself, to end the landscape on the final sheet and make it identical with the beginning of the landscape on the first sheet and I wrapped them around and put the last piece of tape together. And what are you doing today? [laugh]

and this digital recorder. tap. what's going on? You know. even as an adult with my wife. I've kind of replayed that a number of times in my mind.. One other of course early experience of a very. and I wasn't focused on what the characters where saying. So for example. ultimately they kind of arise from literature.. part of the training that one goes through when one becomes blind. dialogue. therefore plot and music. right now in the digital age. tap. tap. usually very subtle. the rain drops hitting the pavement. lets say. museum people take you out and there's a couple of other kind of art collector types around and this guy's kind of looking at me. I just saw myself cause I remember struggling with trying to logically put together concepts and trying to form ideas in time in a way that was sequential and even to the extent that when I would go to the movies... or very suggestive. as a way to get this larger field of experience into the recording itself. And as long as those more self conscious elements aren't put in there as a way to move the action forward and do all of the things that those people do and some of them. I was being completely carried away by the imagery. that the mere suggestion of sound. in the two major components of films. which is kind of what's going on in the gallery. numerous examples of where I actually kind of constructed a sound track around an image. I mean whether they're the actual depiction of a novel or written by some screenplay writer as a new original screen play they're still. So sound is really space. because I just figured later and I'd always watched movies like that. kind of. you know. I can stand here with these microphones we have. except it's really expensive tape [laugh] When did you discover that you had this condition called Dysgraphia. you know. and of course. So I've really not been that interested as you know. quite effectively and impressively. isn't it.. which we all know submarines and marine creatures such as dolphins and whales have used this sort of echo location. somewhat of a three dimensional space. a lot of you're images are based on sound or generated by sound. between us and how he's been growing up. it's very often the merest background. is how to read the world through sound. to you produces the intensity of image? Yes. most often some sound that was actually recorded with the image. and I wasn't really able to follow the plot too well. if you really consider a blind person. I felt there . which I always thought as a kid was simply. small group. tap. that when we were told about this which I hadn't any idea about. the remaining active sense. it's a sense that exists all around us. rather than being congenitally blind.. derived from written language. tap.. very different kind was your near-drowning. basically because they. that creates the awareness of space through echo. where I think the brain wants to write words as pictures? Actually I only really discovered or deduced that I had that by the fact that our eldest son has been diagnosed with that and I've just seen so many similarities. I should add. just so you moved it out in front of you. And therefore the cane. But as far as you're concerned.. the wave fronts came back from the various surfaces in the room. but I suppose that's what you're saying. which you can do with video as opposed to film. as long as the sound is not music or dialogue. I can clap my hands and we can record that. also there's another aspect of the way you're mind works that you've said. Even though having said that there been. do some acoustic analysis and be able to put together a rough image of the room. did you nearly drown? Well. you hear things behind you that you can't see and in my mind when I work I really have felt the limitation of the camera and therefore have always recorded simultaneous sound and picture. so that you didn't bump into anything. being in America most of these films aren't terribly complex and I would have to lean over and go. tap. is actually a sound producing device. how does that work? Well. then what you get is you get this more passive reception of sound. kind of a. But the sound is often. tap. but I see video as an image slash sound medium. whereby two microphones in a stereo configuration at right angles to each other can produce a very three dimensional impression of the sound field. Talking to a trauma physician once in Phoenix Arizona and we were sitting there over dinner. using at times.Exactly. it's a part of the same machine. simply by the delay at which the various echoes. and I would be able to put that sound into a computer. and they can appear to be at different distances from you and you can really feel like you are immersed in a. tap. of the cars going on the street. which it most commonly is in films.

was here and he knew that I was working on this piece and he just on his own accord just came to Berlin to be here when it was shown. and it was so rude. But are you saying if I hear you right. what we are. But the feeling is I glimpsed this world. that's why culture exists. washing these people away and right next to it on the right is the Voyage a small house with the death bed scene going on. pure consciousness. it had all the classic elements of that. my uncle was on the raft. those inflatable inner tubes and I'd literally just forgot to hold on. because after all human beings in our lives and who we are.. and text and so on and so forth. with the man. And in this text that he was reading the last stage one passes through. but none the less. plunged under and within an instant I was in this completely magical. you know and he. That is peculiar isn't it. it was an interruption and terrible feeling. grabbing me under my stomach and yanking me up. whether in The Messenger in Durham Cathedral which many people will remember. we didn't have the sound on at the beginning. that one is at the bottom of a huge waterfall or buried under a mountain and there's this deep roaring sound. I was getting goose bumps. have you had a near death experience? And I was just shocked.. but what happened was.. Peter was reading this to me standing in my piece. and I was so fascinated and captivated and felt so comfortable. and I had one of those inner tubes. as I found later. I was jumping off a raft with my cousin. that's one thing.was kind of connection and finally by the time dessert came he leaned over and said. I saw plants sort of wafting in the currents. I guess so.. I mean as a ten year old. and of course being Peter Sellars he didn't come for the big power dinner after the opening. And he knew. it was disappointing.. I jumped in. And what was the sound of it? Er you know what. of colour. and the very powerful images of bodies in water. that last state is defined by sound and it's the sound of the roaring waterfall. or in Five Angels for the Millennium in London last year. as the deceased is moving on to the next life and the next rebirth. And speaking about sound Peter Sellars the opera director who is a dear friend of mine... extraordinary world. where it represents both rebirth and death. the son and the father and the daughter in law. and then broke the surface and then I remember spitting. gee that's interesting. just to be able to be given that knowledge. So that was your experience and I suppose as result of that the way in which you've used water. obviously since I'm still around to tell the tale. The description of it is. he came four days early when we were still aligning projectors and doing technical adjustments. knowledge of death is the supreme knowledge.. I might have heard that sound then. then I started crying and then I became a ten year old boy who was terrified. And he had this book with him that he was reading. there were fish. blues and greens. I'd never read this book. That's why all of these great works of art exist. have basically clinically died and come back and he's seen that a lot and he just. I don't really remember. this huge amount of water pouring out. where there are bodies coming out of the water and then sometimes going back. The Illuminous Mind by Kalu Rinpoche. you know your emotions are really major part of your consciousness. and in the very first image in Going Forth. and then he proceeded to tell me about people in the emergency room that. . It's those of our kind who have come to the edge of that precipice.. I don't seem to really remember the sound of it. And the feeling I had. almost dissolving again into the universe to be reconstituted again. And I never really thought about it in those terms.. that the most important physical experience that you've had . so you'd been recreating this experience of near death drowning in your work in an extraordinarily productive way. and he knows these patients throughout life cause some of them he keeps track of. Yeah. you deliberately keep this slightly at a distance because you want it to be there as a reservoir of creativity? .. where the deluge had just come down. it was a passage of a discussion of the transition through the various levels of the "Bardo" states. which I consider to be a blessing. you know. so the memories were mostly feeling memories and I remember this big hand coming up...Didn't really have a sound. You know I'm really happy to keep that very intense experience in my life at a very young age. who is one of the great Tibetan spiritual masters who passed away in 1989 and he read me this passage. that was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. that's something I've really been very reticent to sort of pursue. I thought what is this guy trying to come on to me or what's going on here.

I mean it doesn't defy any laws of physics that we know. that I had never in all my work. Hidden Dragon. and I don't want to.. You know I love that quote from Proust where he says.. to what works of art are. these. in an age where theory has really taken over. it's kind of the end and the beginning of the cycle in a way.. or an artwork as a demonstration of kind of theory to me seems really ass-backwards. danger zones in the practise of contemporary art today. Well we happen to be in art practise in a period where the theorists are driving things very strongly. You see the light coming and gradually they're getting more and more tired after having been up on a rescue operation. there's an ambulance that's there at the beginning and it leaves without its flashers or sirens on there's no one left to rescue. we had them stay in position. There's four people who are left on the edge of this body of water of unknown dimensions in the desert at the breaking of dawn. I did a piece called Five Angels of the Millennium which you mentioned and those angels are in the weightless void of an underwater pool and anybody that looks at those images knows that these are really actually in a practical sense. Why didn't you do that? I don't know. but there's a moment in that piece. and that in a way is almost antithetical. Too artificial? Yeah. there's a woman who stands among them and she is waiting for her son. this technical trick. The theorists are really driving the research now. literally there's a bunch of guys and they jumped in the water at different times and the camera was orientated in different ways. and then he would literally just drop into the water. which would be again. which we created with computer controlled lighting in real time. make a big splash and submerge and I would run the whole thing in reverse. And while they sleep.. is I was very concerned in professional terms as an artist. done something that had this degree of fantasy. but I would certainly agree with you and I know it's true. I looked for them but I couldn't see them. Yeah. you know I think that's one of the worse things that artists can do and I think that's one of the most critical pitfalls. and that is. one of those desert rain storm comes in from nowhere and wakes up the sleeping people who totally missed the event. "A work of art that contains a theory is like an article of clothing on which the price tag has been left!" So I just wanted to keep that separate. It's like the experimental physicists versus the theoretical physicists and their relationships sort of oscillate over time. I mean I think what my impulse was to do was when the people were sleeping.. the drips coming off his clothing and body falling into this water become rain and a big rain storm. who will not be coming back. but in actual fact the fire birth as you mentioned is. When he reaches the sky. and I was very concerned about it. the four actors that were lying there. Now the thing that really made me somewhat nervous and that was one of the aspects of working on this piece. I mean the presence of theory in an art work. to position the guy in the water. the rescue scene around the water and the desert. But I realised you know. to.. and then they quickly gather their things and one by one they move off as the sun is rising.I don't want to over analyse it. well we. you know.. but it's completely natural.. you see the whole 35 minutes is taken up with this sunrise. this image of the man rising up was done with these wires like in Crouching Tiger. And then these people one by one get very tired and they fall asleep and so it's just a four like sleeping people around this pool of water in fact becoming the image of the very thing that they were involved with throughout the previous night. what I was really intending to do. it was a little unsmooth. And the same with The Messenger in Durham . they become like dead bodies around the water. making work where for the first time in my life. which if you look at physics the same thing happens. Are you still uncomfortable with it? No I've seen it here and we did three versions of the wire removal and there were some problems we had with the high definition making the smooth slow motion that I wanted. a disturbance appears on the water and this young man's face appears and then his shoulders and chest and body and he sort of effortlessly glides up out of the water dripping wet and floats up into the sky.. natural. the fifth image. would be to have the guy waiting above. I thought I should do. but it's funny in this piece in The First Light.. And this is the first time that I've used this kind of technique. it was . quote unquote. you know you erase them digitally basically.

. is to outlive your children . We don't know his name he did a lot of work in the church of the Osservanza and so that's why he's called that. but actual. what they gave to the world.. the Resurrection as such. at this point I would have to say. which so many of Christian rituals and feast days are. it's the actual re appropriation of the pagan fertility rites. Whether or not you subscribe to what Christians say... the idea of people being asleep when this extraordinary event happens. obviously it's dawn. and they die like us. And then of course you realise the image of the Madonna and child. called the Master of the Osservanza. It is the hope of renewal. is a much more larger universal image for mankind. these things are so tied to who we are as human beings they're almost. we all know the comfort that's in that image. and it was really literally gliding out and the wires were removed perfectly instead a little bit. That was so powerful that image of the Son of God. Right into human form to the point that they give birth like us. bathed in this kind of mystical light that comes from nowhere as Christ is rising up out of the tomb. actually dying a mortal death.. that the resurrection in its more expanded sense and not focused on the very important church holiday of Easter per se. it is watching nature every winter die and every spring be reborn. There's a beautiful very famous resurrection scene that he did of the soldiers just waking up. you know.. There are flowers coming out of the ground. and as you spoke about it. human beings are constantly being reborn. he's a Sienese artist from the 15th century.. it just didn't look right. I mean we've all experienced that. because if you go way. and that early dawn light is breaking which as a student in University when we were looking a lot of that imagery. I'm very pleased with it. way back. we all know what that means. there still is this imagery and this iconography and these beliefs in rebirth. then all of a sudden the whole thing locked in and now I just. there's fruit on the trees. in this case the door to the tomb. the sacred beings. There's a painting by an artist who I dearly love. And the way I look at it is that the resurrection happens every spring. the lid on the tomb is not ajar it's closed.jumpy and it looked. down right down to earth. Whether the Christians acknowledge that there is such a thing as the transmigration of souls as Pythagoras taught. And of course now. you don't I think ever address the Crucifixion.. I would say that certainly visually that panel is based on or was inspired by guess is a better word. the content of the actual meaning of some of these very important events for Christians. Well that's a good question. and I would have to say that I'd answer your question yes and no. because I don't sort of believe in or I don't practise with this restaging appropriation kind of approach to things where you sort of reproduce something. Into human form. dubiously. and we live through the resurrection every spring. which other religions have a real hard time with. is basically a mother and child. The imagery. But you're not blotting out the particularity of the Crucifixion you're just using the experience in a more universal way? Yeah. and they suffer pain like us. is they brought the Gods. The content was my own about the flood and the woman losing her child and stuff. And the most powerful thing about the Christian message and the Christian faith for me. One of the parents most absolutely worst horrific nightmares you can ever imagine.. And then once we clarified those technical issues. the divine beings. And so that was sort of the visual inspiration and it gave me a lot to work with thinking about how to sort of stage this thing. totally benign beautiful image that's given comfort to millions of people around the world. I would have to say they're kind of built into the operating system. and this being this Vernal equinox. I'm really interested in the root structures of experience. We all know unfortunately there is a large group of people who also know what it means to lose a son. and the whole story of Jesus Christ per se. I was so turned off to it that I figured it was sunset you know. that there is such a thing as literally your soul goes out of your body and eventually appears in another body. they bleed like us. even more mysterious. Now are there elements of that in that particular panel here or then again do you choose not to go quite that far in expressing and interpreting the Christian experience. the Ascension. I am very conscious that I am using not only just visual compositional elements that have been apparent and used in Christian art. the Resurrection? I mean you have strong streaks of Christian Mysticism in you.

Second only to the experience of near drowning. She basically woke up one night. and I asked my dad if I could. I could not grasp. definitely. she woke up with a headache and an hour later she was unconscious and my father called me from Florida and I got on the very next plane. for me there was an image in front of me for the first time in my life that I could not understand. 1983 when I just got back from Japan . about this man's life and I was just so touched and I was shaken because it was so much like the experiences that I had had and so deep in a human way for all of us. about saying I can't put a video camera on my mother's face and yet you did.? What did he say? He said no.. or did you just say to hell with it this is what I'm interested in and this is what I am going to do? I think probably the latter. if not the most important. one of the most important. oh yeah. I mean you just feel so helpless.. what I'm really interested in is reinterpreting Christian iconography. the technological world that I've devoted my life to is now not only keeping my mother alive but keeping her from me... And video for me has by that time. full on. and I was in a bookshop. in the middle of the night and she had a brain haemorrhage. it was written about in the critics. I mean I had to do something I was going nuts. the worst image that you could possibly imagine and I just had to not run away from that image or close my eyes to that image. And I was working on this piece about inside and outside and I had this plan to build this room within a room and very quickly it became this. it was like the whole piece was there in front of me and I didn't know what to call it. He was pretty sensitive and I think.. maybe three weeks before the end and then a very short little session a week before the end and then the last image which is at the very end of Nantes Triptych. "well just call it what it is". that I always sort of just gone for it. if it's irony. and so I just one day. really for the first time. but did you actually have to start to be brave to do this. it's like you are a complete lay person and these experts know what they're doing and so you can't really administer to your own parent and so you end up holding hands a lot. So I took out the camera and I made actually very few video recordings. they would have said.. 1990 had become my own life line to the world and I just felt that. the sight of your mother dying is certainly in your art as you created it. yeah. you couldn't talk to her. As she was dying. you're wonderfully traditional and old fashioned.. is that at art school you hated art history. you can not be serious? Christianity please! So I mean you're.. you know. it just. All families feel that when they go into hospitals these days. and then a lot of people who saw it appreciated the work. which we all did. I mean this was very uncool. because I'm not the expert. did you hesitate for a moment. The irony is. so I titled it. You know there's a way that you are kind of separate from her so I guess the helplessness of the whole situation. Room for St John of the Cross.. And the turning point for me in terms of your question is. and then you discovered the Sienese masters and also if you said at the time that's your colleagues and your contemporaries. And someone had mentioned to me I should read St John of the Cross's poetry. but go right through that image. I mean it was like a flash. I'd say. no that's ok luckily. and in 1983 and probably even now you just did not make works of art for Christian Saints. there's this little thin paperback. would you mind if I. It was like the forbidden image. the little voice in my head says. whispering in their ear and stroking their head and stuff. and was deeply moved and impressed by it.and here's this faith that brings this very universal human elements and brings it into the context of sacred. I could not accept. where I really encountered traditional culture. here's your own mother in this state. How did you go through that particular transaction with yourself or wasn't there one? It was a necessity sort of for me in a way. People said that did they? Oh yeah. Poems of St John of the Cross and I picked it up and I read the introduction. over a period of time and it was three months from the time that she had her haemorrhage to when she passed away and she was in a complete coma. I think. where you're in close up on the face and you don't . And then you arrive and there she is with tubes and wires and you know little beeping sounds and little oscilloscopes going on and it was a cruel irony.. I guess versions of that have happened to me all along. a couple of days when she was about.

half of the way in and I just could not pick up a camera. So finally my wife Kira said. this is me. "mom's sick. and I just was like going down these blind alleys. This was a purely personal reaction. get on the plane. it was almost painful. and we didn't really have the money. that every time I put it up to my eye. And there I was with this little. And I was like. from the funeral. And then like a ton of bricks hit me. it was cutting out all the good stuff. she passed away at six o' clock the next morning. And I got on the plane and I went there and this event happened. you know. I finally got back home and I get back home and waiting for me. Now you filmed your mother.. no. most of your pieces otherwise. you have appeared yourself occasionally. very painful intense emotions. rejected it.. you've explained why you did it. 20 minutes long. you know. have you tried it. we have to do something.. in the process of spending six months out there. I think the great majority are done with actors. absolutely not. cracking a little slit in my fingers looking at this image that I didn't ever want to see again. So that was absolute necessity and I just went back home after that horrific event after the funeral and just took those tapes. and the last place I wanted to go was the editing room and I forced myself to go in there and I pulled out all this desert footage. I'm drowning and if I don't hold onto some line I'm going to go under. it was ridiculous. for me anyway. even when they are actors who are expressing very. it was taken late in the afternoon of the day she passed away. surely there have been extraordinarily expressive forms of portraiture. "oh man. each of raw material sitting on my shelf from the desert. instead of the very normal and familiar and usual two weeks or three weeks which I had been doing for years. Well that was actually very soon later. all of a sudden I didn't have anything left. unless we have a rough cut on the producer's desk in six weeks". taking that you always feel with cameras and I said what would happen if I lived in the image and how would I change over the course of time.. Oh no. What happened was. I just like put them in a little place on my shelf . little kind of tiny tube. the American South West. "we are going to ask request that you send back the money. I really wanted to see what would happen if you got beyond that taking. that was the reason why in kindergarten the teacher put up little Billy's drawing and nobody else's.. it was like the little box of ashes. so in the end of 87 I got a grant from German television. let's see. gradually make peace with it and then all the desert stuff just came right into that and I made this piece called.. .. put them in the machine. taking. it seemed ludicrous I was like in the most incredible spiritually awe inspiring landscape. is this letter. The Passing.. 90. from all this stuff." And I flew there and I had 185 tapes at that point. but we will have to give it back somehow. with a little hole in it. Have you ever been attracted by the idea of doing portraits of real people? I mean. what I was really working on. she passed away in 91. one of them on the planet. the whole thing dried up and for the first time in my life the whole creative force that had carried me so far. to make a film video... I just couldn't handle it. I went to the shelf pulled those images off.. and sat with one hand up to my face. we have to give back the money". and that's when the phone call came from my dad. but did you think it was going to become part of a work of art.. abandoned it or what? Do you mean actors aren't real people? [laugh] . for a year and a half and then it finally. is I met this massive writer's block. So how many years later did you say that's going? . Now when you did this.see the light in the eyes anymore. This is. What happened was that to back up.. What I proposed was to do a recording of the desert in various states and that I would go out to the desert for six months. And then from that point on I went on this downward spiral of starting and stopping. I use the video and I have to try and interpret this event with my instrument of expression. It was truly frightening and I was just completely depressed and immobilised. Of your mother dying? Yes and then forcing myself to log it ..

or a week. a challenge of portraiture. I know what you're saying. but can you imagine circumstance. of Rumsfeld. of Cheney. to hear . wait a second. very understanding and she kind of showed me what it was like and I was so deeply impressed. and they could hardly speak. So we spent a couple of days together and I was very nervous about it and very uncomfortable and to the point when she really started crying I just grabbed some tissues and got up immediately and walked up in front of the camera and gave her a tissue. it was real interesting and a real interesting mix of people and what happened was. she kind of was really great. that yeah I was wrong. to understand the old Master paintings that I'd been interested in for many years before. sonar sound. but I'm still curious that you wouldn't want to do this. is the revealer.. they all broke out into hysterical laughter.. She had to go somewhere in herself that was real to express this emotion. I mean the term persona in English comes from ancient Greek and persona doesn't mean person. and we looked at the passions in different artworks in art history and philosophy. it's not a visual image.They're not expressing their own emotions. per through. the famous story of the people in the mental Institution when Reagan came on to give his speech without the sound. I realised I wanted to do this quintet. I first called up the woman who's in the Greeting. is the feeling-being image of a person. because that is the real Neal Conan or Robert Siegel and that's really what they look like. is the real image. I've come to seriously believe that the image that I have had of those people I couldn't see. what are you doing? With the tears running down her face. And they're very. they said he's lying.. It's interesting though. and then I began. really took me to another level and actually gave me a way to get into. Robert Siegel . very gentle. The way people with mental disabilities or autism sometimes are said to see through. what's going on in your inner psyche is this being-image is residing in there. That was very powerful. no that's totally wrong. wouldn't that be fascinating? Yeah.. that's not what he's supposed to look like. like close up in your face. they said why are you laughing. I mean what a challenge that would be. that's where the mystery lies and you give it enough time. or try this with individuals. very vivid clear images of what these people look like and every once in a while in the newspaper one of them will appear in the context of an article and I will go. the first project I did with professional actors was in 1995 called The Greeting. and I had been working on Hieronymus Bosch shortly before that time. but I'm sorry she was also. that that kind of triggered me in being right there with the collection in the Getty to sort of study and look at. or when someone sits and you sit with them not for a ten minute coffee or even an hour coffee heart to heart. these five people undergoing intense emotional stress because I was a scholar in residence at the Getty Research Institute in 1998 and that theme of that year which was I guess why they invited me was representing the passions. she was really crying. and I was very uncomfortable in the whole situation and when the commission came through from the National Gallery in London to do a piece based on the work in the collection. yes or if you took someone famous. what I learned working with actors and I've only really. like getting someone to cry. so I knew I wanted to do something with actors and that's really when I kind of started. I never thought. When you live with someone for a whole day. And so I finally. And we're doing this for the radio and I think it's appropriate to mention here that I've always been fascinated with. and even if you're talking to someone in front of their face. it means the kind of inner essence of the person. because you know what would be fascinating about it? Time is truth. where they said come and do what shall we call them. it's not her emotion.. and I used to kind of realise of course. driving somewhere and listening to the radio and hearing those voices. very interesting. I really believe that that thought -being image is with us all the time. But really I'm serious. one of your slow-mo portraits of the President. Neal Conan all these people on American public radio. Susanna Peters and I said Susanna you've got to come and I want to do some one on one stuff with you and I really wanted her to sort of take me through the ropes of how to direct someone in a very intimate way. she said. they do the emotions you tell them to express. And I have images in my mind. but if you sit with them for two to three hours and you don't feel obliged to talk and you get an incredibly real portrait of what that person is. it means from ancient Greek. with the three women based on the early 16 century Pontormo painting.. anything and you will see some semblance of the inner reality of something. Annie Leibowitz recently did a huge photo shoot in the White House with President Bush and his team. I can understand that and it does come over very powerfully. And what happened to me at first was. and if you look at the words persona.

But what is the relationship between what you want to do and the frustration of having to work through other people. very long time. the idea has to precede technology. not by some. because when they did the dramas. But that is driven by. The human brain is probably one of the most complex single objects on the face of the earth. I was not born to be a director. kind of. because we are all wearing masks. what you want to know is what is going to be able to realise the idea that you have? Oh yeah. I think art has a more important role to play in this century than it has had to play in a very. I mean we talk about identity theft. we talk about loss of language. technological apparatus to keep us alive. without having have to meet it head on. which is an age of fear. you couldn't do it without them. as Houston Smith great scholar of world religions has said. Is this the role for art in the 21st century. that I can't literally do it myself. I mean that's what we are. you can't stop the water. in any kind of spiritual discipline to try to touch the untouchable. that's like driven by some larger thing and the same why is a thorn on a branch of a bush? Does that thorn know about an animal that's going to come up and try to eat the flowers. you know. technician from MIT trying to make the latest coolest computer. But time will eventually wear that down. you know. in the most intimate way in a broader societal way are technology and revelation. and the reason for that is. and it's not coincidental that the primary fear of individuals in the global age is loss of identity. and so that's what's really important to remember about visual images in the age of visual images. or is this something that you have had to learn.through. at this point in history. the two forces that have most made you who you are. it's an age that is characterised by the free flow of information and not only the free flow of information but the uncontrolled flow of information not in the sense of political regimes. But you're not driven by the latest technological invention. That's really what globalisation is about. you're going beyond the mask inside. how could it possibly know that. everything is getting wet. that I've had to rely on these experts or specialists to help with certain things. but in the sense of like. it's like leaking everywhere and it's just flowing out of everything. So we're being driven forward in increasing layers of complexity and density. You work a lot with technicians. it's an age of uncertainty for many of us. Do you think art has a more important role in the 21st century than it was sometimes thought to have in the materialist 20th? Yes I do very strongly. in the age of globalisation. by something else. loss of culture. inheritors of the planet in a way. I think it is quite honestly. they were all wearing masks. you know. Is they can be masks and shields and they can cover up the reality. and that of course is in a fundamental way. not only was I very shy as a young boy. loss of currency. kind of nature of religion. . precisely. And time can help you to see through that. And when you hear through the mask. keep us functioning and moving us forward. but it's there. And here in this later period in my life where I've come to the limits of my technical knowledge and expertise and the kind of ideas I'm trying to grasp right now are bigger than me and bigger than everyone around me. in terms of history. we're talking about loss of all of the unique things that make you unique in the age where everything's being connected and so the real fundamental basis of our species as the. we are beings who have incredible extraordinary. to hear through what? To hear through the mask. being empowered and thrust upon us by technology. but also I was always very private in my drawings and different artworks that I made at various points of my life are always the way for me to engage the world without having have to be in it. We give ourselves away with our voices. the production list for Going Forth by Day is almost a production list for a Hollywood movie so to say. that you can only realise your vision through other people? Yes.

when I was young called the Little Rascals and it was made in the 30's by Hal Roach. of feelings and we will die. it's a vital place and a vital role to play in this global world. where all of these cultures. those in the 21st century are the only possible language. That's the only way to talk to each other. for friends and we have emotions. this is our society with it's rules and everything. . but we're on our way. because after all at 51 you are young? This is true.. traditions. in ways we couldn't imagine. his eyes were real wide and he looked right at Spanky the little kid behind the steering wheel. races. sort of.. driving the little cart and Stymie said. you know societies are really literally being put in direct contact with each other. you know. in the group. .. of course with the steering wheel that broke halfway down and they went spinning out of control.Those two forces are converging in the 21st century. we feel love for family members.. Bill Viola thank you very much (laughs). I don't know where we're going. this wagon thing kinda carried around right next to the front end. And at one point the back end of this. So that's were I'm going. it was in fact right in front of the driver and little Stymie the little black kid. So art has this real.. And there was one moment when they got on a hand made carts.. the only possible way to connect with other people is through what was always considered to be the fundamental aspects of the human condition. but we're on our way. where are you going? And Spanky said.. And it was about this band of little kids that had all of these misadventures. Do you feel you have any idea of the sort of creative journey ahead of you. to using an artistic way or just something that you have in your private life. And in the age where all these cultures are getting thrust into each other. like was shocked. is the world of someone living in a small village in an Islamic country is. we are all born. artistic aspects. don't ask me where. have no sense of understanding what true inner. we are all. conditions. and fine I don't want to know that. and that is. we have the human passions of an inner life. compared to ourselves here in the West. well there was a TV series. come from some kind of family situation. And those universal themes of human existence are no longer just. to go speeding down the hill.. and it's your own subjective life. So they're essentials for survival. separate from the world you live in.

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