“I was born at the same time as video,” says celebrated contemporary American artist Bill Viola. In fact it is hard to imagine his art expressed through any other medium. The exquisitely slow, emotional visuals – often featuring a water element – demand nothing less than total immersion from the viewer.
In an interview with a journalist when he was about 30, Viola surprised himself recalling a near-fatal accident when he fell in a lake as a small child. He didn’t remember the fear but rather the quiet beauty of being submerged in water. Viola had never before drawn a parallel between the incident and the recurrent liquid imagery in his work, which seems to have emerged, unsummoned from the depths of his subconscious.
The installations are displayed in semi-darkness and the Grand Palais partially accommodates for tired feet with some bench seating but mostly you’re left to find a spot or recline against a wall. Viola referred to his work as “sculpting time” and, therefore, a decent period is required to allow his films to wash over you, so there’s no way that you can take anything from this exhibition in a hurry. Give it time.
Tip: Make sure that you wear comfortable clothing so that you can sit on the floor and turn off your phone, then ease into Viola’s visual works without any distractions.
Bill Viola at the Grand Palais. Until July 21. 3 avenue du Général Eisenhower, Paris 8th. Métro: Franklin D Roosevelt, Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau. Open daily 10 am-10 pm. Sundays & Mondays until 8pm. Closed Tuesdays. Entry: €14. Tel: +33 1 44 13 17 17
Originally published in the June-July 2014 issue of France Today