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Bil Viola Solo Exhibition
by James Cohan Gallery, Shanghai
Location: James Cohan Gallery at West Bund Art & Design Fair 2014 / Booth B2
Artist(s): Bill VIOLA
Date: 25 Sep - 26 Oct 2014

James Cohan Gallery is pleased to announce the solo exhibition by the internationally acclaimed artist Bill Viola at the inaugural edition of the West Bund Art & Design Fair 2014. The fair opens September 25 through September 29, 2014, and continues as a special, month-long exhibition through October 26, 2014.

Bill Viola has been instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art, and in so doing has helped to greatly expand its scope in terms of technology, content, and historical reach. 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.

The exhibition is a selected survey of Bill Viola’s unique artistic practice in the last decade. On view will be five flat-panel video installations, The Last Angel (2002), Ablutions (2005), The Poem B (2006), and two pieces from the Transfigurations series, The Innocents (2007), and Transfigurations (2007). One of the key aspects of Viola’s work is its use of time as an essential material. The subtle, continual temporal transitions encourage viewers to slow down to fully engage with it, and by doing so, bring their own experiences and associations to the works.

The earliest work in the exhibition is The Last Angel (2002), filmed in a 16ft pool from above and below the water surface. The sound of the underwater space is audible, immersing the viewer in a kind of sonic landscape. A reflection of a figure, barely visible at first, begins to appear and disappear as the surface of the water becomes increasingly agitated. The sound builds and becomes louder until the figure dramatically erupts from the pool and begins to ascend slowly towards the top of the screen through a deep blue light before disappearing into darkness. The work is captivating and painterly, highlighting the artist’s use of water as a major theme for regeneration, transformation, birth and rebirth.

Ablutions (2005) is a diptych plasma screen work that opens with two parallel streams of water. A female torso approaches the background on the left while a male torso mirrors her on the right. The figures move slowly toward the foreground, approaching the streams of water and into a clear light from above, their hands cupping the water. The slow motion of the water splashing off their hands adds to the visceral sense of the activity. The two figures wash their hands and after several minutes fade into silhouettes. Viola has described this work as a kind of purification ritual akin to those one would experience in a Japanese Zen temple. Ablutions was included in the opera by Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde, at the Paris Opera project directed by Peter Sellars and conducted by Essa Pekka Salonen. The Tristan Project premiered in Paris in 2004, followed by performances in Los Angeles, New York, Rotterdam, Lucerne, Dortmund, Birmingham and London.

The Innocents (2007), also a diptych plasma screen work, and Transfigurations (2007) were created as part of The Transfigurations Series, a continued rumination on the material explored in Viola’s epic work, Ocean Without A Shore (2007) created for the 15th century Church of San Gallo for the Venice Biennale the same year. Transfiguration 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." Works in this series are mostly silent and otherworldly, at first presenting black-and-white images of figures slowly approaching and then passing through a wall of cascading water into a world of light and color. Reacting with a range of emotions--surprise, confusion, and fear--reflecting on the living world they’ve left behind, the figures are eventually drawn back into the other realm, passing through this symbolic, liminal divide between life and death.

Bill Viola (b.1951) is internationally recognized as one of today’s leading artists. For 40 years he has created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast. Viola’s video installations—total environments that envelop the viewer in image and sound—employ state-of-the-art technologies and are distinguished by their precision and direct simplicity. His single channel videotapes have been widely broadcast and presented cinematically, while his writings have been extensively published and translated for international readers. Exploring the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge, Viola’s videos communicate to a wide audience, allowing viewers to experience the work directly, and in their own personal way.

Since the early 1970's, Viola's art works have been exhibited worldwide and are included in the collections of international museums and important private collections. Exhibitions include: Bill Viola: Installations and Videotapes, MoMA, NY, 1987; and the travelling exhibition Bill Viola: Unseen Images, 1992-1994, organized by the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and Kira Perov. Viola represented the U.S. at the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995 with the exhibition Buried Secrets. In 1997 the Whitney Museum organized Bill Viola: A 25-Year Survey that traveled to six museums in the US and Europe. In 2002, Going Forth By Day, a five part video "fresco" cycle was presented at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and the Guggenheim, NY. In 2003, The Passions, originated at the J. Paul Getty Museum, CA and traveled to the National Gallery, London; the Fondacion "La Caixa" in Madrid; and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Other important solo exhibitions have been mounted at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo in 2006 and at the Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw in 2007. In 2008, Bill Viola: Visioni interiori, a survey exhibition organized by Kira Perov, was presented in Rome at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. His exhibition Intimate Works was presented at De Pont, Tilburg, Netherlands in January, 2010. Viola’s recent solo exhibits include Bill Viola: The Raft, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, 2012; Bill Viola: Unspoken, James Cohan Gallery, Shanghai, 2012; Bill Viola: In Dialoge, the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, Spain, 2014; a Major Retrospective Exhibition at the Grand Palais, France in March, 2014; and a commission for St. Pauls's Cathedral in London in May 2014.

Viola is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, most recently receiving the prestigious Praemium Imperiale Award in Tokyo in 2011. He received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1989; the first Medienkunstpreis in 1993; the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government in 2006; the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts, MIT in 2009; and the 2009 Catalonia International Prize. In addition to several honorary doctorates, Viola was invited to be a visiting scholar at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles in 1998. Bill Viola and Kira Perov, his wife and long-time collaborator, live and work in Long Beach, California.

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