TOKYO, JAPAN.- The Mori Art Museum presents Bill Viola: Hatsu-Yume (First Dream), on view through January 8, 2007. Bill Viola, one of the world’s leading video artists, traveled to Japan in 1980 on a one-year arts fellowship to study and experience first hand its cultural traditions and religions. He extended his stay by six months to work at Sony’s Atsugi Research Center where he gained access to the most advanced video technology of the time. The influence of both experiences transformed his work.
This exhibition, organized by the Mori Art Museum and The Asahi Shimbun, showcases work from Viola’s productive career, beginning with Hatu-Yume (FirstDream) (1981), the 56 minute video he made while staying in Japan, to The Raf, (2004), one of his recent room-size installations. It is his first survey exhibition in Asia, and takes his “first dream” in Japan as a starting point for viewing his subsequent work.
Bill Viola was born in New York in 1951 and graduated from Syracuse University in 1973 where he had already worked for several years with video and electronic music, creating single channel works and experimenting with complex sculptural installations and projections. During that time, Viola encountered and worked with the first generation of video artists, but soon began to make works that tested the current perceived view of video, displaying a new sensibility in his unique use of the medium. By the late 1970s he was already emerging as one of the leading figures in video art. During the ‘80s when the development of a better range and quality of video projectors made them more easily accessible, Viola’s development of the genre of the room size video installation evolved further, creating environments that engulf the observer in moving images and sound. The images in these works range from the shocking to the meditative. The ‘90s saw an expansion of the installation works into “meta” pieces, accretions of several independent works that together create an inner journey for the viewer, such as “Buried Secrets,” five interrelated works for the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 1995. From 2000, he began using plasma and LCD screens in works that feature silent, slowed down, moving pictures exploring the human emotions, a theme that Viola has continued to develop. The composition and sensibility of these works were influenced by well-known paintings in the western medieval and renaissance traditions. While utilizing the latest technological developments, Viola has continued to address fundamental themes of the human condition — life, birth, death, rebirth, and the unfolding of consciousness. It is for this reason that Bill Viola’s work has a universal appeal that transcends cultures, technologies and trends and continues to move and engage people everywhere.
Viola’s work often shows a strong affinity with Japan: he and his wife and collaborator Kira Perov spent a year and a half living there from 1980, studying Japanese traditional arts and philosophy, including Zen Buddhism and Noh theater, while at the same time producing a video art work at Sony’s Atsugi Research Laboratories. This experience and Viola’s connected interest in Eastern philosophy and religion have played a major role in the formation of his unique holistic view of culture and nature and this in turn continues to be a major influence on his artistic development.
This comprehensive exhibition encompasses a wide range of Bill Viola’s art. Featuring eight room-size installations and seven flat-screen video pieces, it will be the largest exhibition of Viola’s work since his 1997 retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art. The title of this exhibition is taken from the video work produced in 1981 in Japan, Hasu-Yume (First Dream). Based on day-to-day recordings made during Viola and Perov’s travels through Japan’s main island of Honshu – from the urban landscapes of Tokyo to the scenery of remote Osorezan (“mountain of souls”)– Hasu-Yume reveals the boundaries that lie between light and dark, ancient and modern, nature and the city, object and subject, rational thought and intuition. The works presented in this exhibition all share a common ancestor in the experiences that created Hatsu-Yume.