Bill Viola has secured a position as one of the most influential and important figures in contemporary art. He works as a video artist and has thoroughly explored the field, having started his career around the time that video was first emerging into the mainstream, and he has pioneered video art. He utilizes the space in which his videos are displayed and presents them as installations. He deals with a range of themes revolving around the human experience. He explores life, death, love and emotion in a range of filming techniques that utilize some of the most recent technology. His earlier techniques were often basic; using a handheld camera, in the style of a documentary he captured intimate moments like the birth of a child and the death of his mother.
In Nantes Triptych, Bill Viola displays three different videos in an installation that focuses on life and death. The first video is of his friend giving birth. It’s an intimate look into the beauty of birth and life. A stationary camera is centered on the subject and throughout the course of her labor she is exposed entirely. Also documented in the video is the baby after the birth. He juxtaposes this with a video dealing with death. He filmed his mother on her death bead and in her final moments of life. She was stricken with a terminal disease and eventually withered away. In a documentary titled “The Eye of the Heart”, Bill Viola talks about his mother’s death and his decision to film this deep and intimate experience. He says that filming his mother in the process of dying was emotionally the hardest experience he’s had to deal with. His mother’s illness sent him into grief for 5 months in which he refused to deal with any other work. The third video in the installation is placed in between the birth and the death. This video depicts a naked man weightlessly floating underwater. This video has a dark and empty use of color."These are the great universal experiences, they happen to be the most private and personal experiences and the camera is the embodiment of the invasion of privacy which is where the tension comes in.", Bill Viola on Nantes Triptych.
The title “Nantes Triptych” refers to the style in which he displays the work. The triptych was used in many renaissance works and it is three images side by side, the center being the focus. These three videos together make a piece about three contrasting aspects of life. Entering the world, leaving the world and being alive are all explored. The filming style he uses brings us up close and intimate with the subjects and what they are experiencing. Bill Viola deals with the connection between all aspects of the world and this can be seen as a theme in most of his videos. He uses asymmetrical aesthetics in his juxtaposition of his mother’s death with the video of a child being born, both images act as reciprocal metaphors.
bibliography: Bill Viola, The Eye of The Heart, DVD.