The Reflecting Pool (compilation) Reflecting Pool, 1977-1979 (7') Moonblood, 1977-1979 (12'48) Silent Life, 1979 (13'14) Ancient of Days, 1979-1980 (12'21) Vegetable Memory, 1978-1980 (12'21), 1977 - 1980
NTSC, sound, colour
The Reflecting Pool is a series of five independent fragments which, taken as a whole, describe the milestones in a personal journey, using images of transition, from night to day, from movement to immobility, from time to outside time. Tiny passages which record the visions of the brain and the complexities of perception. This is where the major sources of inspiration in Bill Viola's work merge: oriental philosophies, phenomenology, scientific theses concerning memory and light, the theory of relativity; the double combat of Yin and Yang and of man and nature.
The Reflecting Pool, 1977-1979 (7')
A man comes out of the forest and stands at the edge of a swimming pool. Directly in front, we can see his reflection in the water. Then he jumps and his body freezes, suspended in the air. The reflection has disappeared. A variety of movements run through the swimming pool. the man's body dissolves and disintegrate in the foliage, while his standing reflection, the mnesic trace of the his presence, appears in the water. He burst out of the depths of the swimming pool and vanishes in the forest. In this way, the image is fragmented into three distinct time levels and reconstructed so that it evokes the representation of a single space, with its lines of division modeled on the original composition. Bill Viola sculpts time, using video as his material. In an interview, he remarked: "The emergence of the solitary character is the process of differentiation or individuation from nature. I suggest that events in this world are illusory or ephemeral since they are only visible as reflections on the surface of the water. reality is never perceived directly - it's Plato's cave." 1
Moonblood, 1977-1979 (12'48)
Day and night converge in the unmoving body of a woman in front of a window open to the world. A waterfall fills the screen with images which disturb perception with disordered movement. The play of light and its reflection is shown variously inside a glass of water, in the desert, at sunrise. The woman here appears as a receptacle, containing the world and its mirages, out of which comes the fragile silhouette of the man. Here, Bill Viola acknowledges the principle of femininity as a matrix and source: fluid, liquid and transparent.
Silent Life, 1979 (13'14)
Silent Life is a series of portraits of newborn children between five minutes and one day old, shot in the nursery of a New York hospital. This simple recording without any effects, bearing witness to the first few moments of life seems on the surface to be almost documentary in style. But very quickly, in the contemplation of these suffering faces and blind gazes, the dull image of death veils the evidence of these first pictures of life. The hospital is the place where we are born and die, it opens and closes the parenthesis. .Using large, fixed close-ups, the eyes and open mouths of the children and their isolation in glass bubbles make the silent space heavy with death. The white sheets cover the beds and sleeping bodies like shrouds.
Ancient of Days, 1979-1981 (12'21)
This tape is the fruit of a series of experiments, the result of research on computer-assisted editing systems when the artist was in residence at the Sony Corporation in Japan. Bill Viola treats time as a force which destroys and gives life in the same movement. He shows the paradoxical but nevertheless complementary principles of growth and decline, expansion and concentration, the very idea of transformation intrinsic to a fixed, single image. Ancient of Days expresses the feeling of the metamorphosis of time and condenses these passages: time for vision, time to record, time for imagination, time for dreaming, time immemorial. A table burns so that it can be reconstituted; changes in the light show the passage of a day on a monumenus highlight its unchangeability compared with human beings, a daytime city is inverted in a night sky, behind a clock a photograph of a mountain starts moving, escaping its immobility to become a wide vide screen in the streets of Tokyo.
Vegetable Memory, 1978-1980 (12'21)
A series of images recorded in the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo develop continually in time, with the shapes, sensibility and even meaning changing compared with the first shots, until there is total subjectivity. The title of this work is a reference to the writings of Jabaludin Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, and, according to Bill Viola, it explores "the phenomena of perception of a repetitive cyclical vision which has become a sort of temporal magnifying glass". "A series of canons and fugues for video", the same thirty shots are repeated in a loop, giving a spiral effect, ending up with image-by-image projection after fifteen minutes. The fish are cut up and then put aside again and again, more and more slowly, in a sort of religious ritual - since the fish is a natural symbol for Bill Viola, a sacred figure from the waters of our origins, mixing life and death. By synchronizing the soundtrack to this constantly slowed image, the artist reveals new complex sound forms, a sinister groaning from the bowels of the earth,
1 Interview given in Paris, to the Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1984.