About Bill Viola

‘This is a real showstopper’

- The Times

Yorkshire Sculpture Park presented a significant exhibition by pioneering American video and installation artist, Bill Viola. It was the most extensive exhibition in the UK by the artist for over 10 years.

Developed in collaboration with Viola, Kira Perov, Executive Director, Bill Viola Studio and Clare Lilley, Director of Programme, YSP, the immersive exhibition in YSP’s Chapel and Underground Gallery featured installations from the last 20 years of Viola’s career and premiered a new work, The Trial (2015). 

‘A must see exhibition in a must see venue, if you have never before visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, now is the time to do so’

- Aesthetica

Bill Viola The Dreamers detail 2013 Courtesy Bill Viola Studio and YSP Photo Jonty Wilde

For four decades, Viola (b. 1951) has created a profound portfolio of emotionally charged works with which audiences connect worldwide through subjects that investigate fundamental human experience. He has been instrumental in the establishment of video as an important form of contemporary art, and his installations, total environments that envelop the viewer in image and sound, employ state-of-the-art technologies.

Especially for this exhibition, the artist released a rare limited edition lithograph print of one of his drawings, featuring text from the 16th century Sufi romance, Madhumalati.

Bill Viola Fire Woman 2005 Courtesy Bill Viola Studio and YSP Photo Jonty Wilde

Considering universal themes of life, death, love and spirituality, Viola gives tangible visual form to abstract psychological and metaphysical experiences.

He explores facets of the human condition and holds a stark and intimate mirror to our strength, fragility, and the impulses and inevitabilities that unite us. The eight works installed in the Underground Gallery continued Viola’s investigations of the unseeable, the unknowable, and the place between birth and death. The new work for the exhibition, The Trial (2015), depicts, in Viola’s words, “five stages of awakening through a series of violent transformations.” A young woman and a young man, both bare-chested and on separate screens, are each doused with a sudden and unexpected succession of different coloured liquids. Their ordeal intensifies then wanes as the cycle progresses and changes, from despair to fear to relief and then purification.

The exhibition also featured three works from the Transfigurations series, which reflect on the passage of time and the process by which a person’s inner being is transformed. In Three Women (2008), a mother and her two daughters slowly approach an invisible boundary through which they pass and eventually return. Viola combines images recorded in grainy analogue video from an old surveillance camera with those shot in High-Definition video to bring the viewer to the intersection of obscurity and clarity – from death to life – and back again. Two other related works, The Return and The Innocents (both 2007), use the same device of an unseen wall of water to render visible the momentary threshold between life and death.

Inside the 18th century Chapel, a short walk across YSP’s historic deer park, Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall) (both 2005), drew on the ancient story of lovers gripped by a passion that is blind to duty, honour and social obligation and which can only be consummated beyond the grave. Originally created, together with Night Vigil, as part of a four-hour video for theatre director Peter Sellars’ production of Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, the two works were shown one after another in a continuous loop, and combined to make a visual and aural experience that extended Viola’s lifelong engagement with mortality and transcendence.

Clare Lilley, Director of Programme at YSP said of the exhibition: “Bill Viola at Yorkshire Sculpture Park aimed to be especially meaningful to the Sculpture Park’s intergenerational audience, with works selected to relate to the thresholds of life and the questions they raise, across cultures and geographies. The exhibition was a journey through time and landscape, presenting both intimate and dramatic experiences in one of the most powerful and singular exhibitions of Viola’s career."

Bill Viola Tristans Ascension The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall 2005 Courtesy Bill Viola Studio and YSP Photo Jonty Wilde

More Bill Viola

  1. Bill Viola: Madhumalati