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Bill Viola, "Pneuma" (1994); three channels of black-and-white video projected into three corners of a darkened, square space: amplified mono sound; Edition of 2
Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery
James Cohan Gallery is pleased to present the fifth gallery exhibition by internationally acclaimed American artist Bill Viola. Viola is well-known for using the medium of video to explore the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge. His works focus on universal human experiences—birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness—and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism. This exhibition spans two decades and includes Pneuma (1994) an installation (this exhibition marks the work's New York premiere) and several flat-screen pieces from the "Transfigurations" series, Viola's newest body of work, which originated with Ocean Without a Shore, which was created for the 15th century Church of San Gallo during the Venice Biennale in 2007.
Viola's signature full-room installation Pneuma from 1994, will be presented in the main gallery space. "Pneuma," an ancient Greek word that has no equivalent in contemporary terms, is commonly translated as soul or spirit. For Viola, it means the breath, or life force that runs through the entire natural world. In this installation, images alternatively emerge and submerge from indistinct shadows, hovering on the edge of recognition. The projections become more like memories or internal sensations than recorded images of places and events. Pneuma's monochrome images are projected into three corners of a darkened room while the sound of white noise permeates the space.
The title of the series "Transfigurations" refers to the moment when a person or an object is transformed not by external means but from within. Viola says "the transformation of the Self, usually provoked by a profound inner revelation or an overwhelming sensation of clarity and fathomless emotion, overcomes the individual until literally a 'new light' dawns on him or her… Some of the most profound human experiences occur at times like these, arising at the outer limits of conscious awareness." In Viola's "Transfigurations" works, black and white images of ghostly figures emerge slowly from complete darkness eventually passing through a threshold of water into a world of color and light. After resting momentarily, the figures are drawn back through to the other realm. Viola combines images filmed in grainy analog video from surveillance cameras with those filmed in High-Definition to bring the viewer to the intersection of obscurity and clarity—from death to life—and back again. Among the works in this series are Acceptance (2008,) Incarnation (2008,) The Innocents (2008) and Small Saints (2008).
Other works included in this exhibition are: Poem B (The Guest House) a triptych from 2006 in which images form a tapestry of shifting memories from the past to the present; Bodies of Light, 2006 a flat panel diptych which takes its inspiration from Tantric Buddhist descriptions of the dissolution of the body during the process of birth and death; Old Oak (Study), (2005); and Four Hands (2001).(read less)
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