12 May - 28 Oct / Bill Viola for Villa Panza: Reflection / Varese

Bill Viola Emergence 2002 3 Photo Kira Perov

One of the things the camera taught me was to see the world, the same world that my eye sees, in its metaphoric, symbolic state. This condition is, in fact, always present, latent in the world around us
Bill Viola

FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano (the Italian National Trust) pays homage to Bill Viola, the artist who is internationally renowned as the standard-bearer for video art, through the exhibition entitled Reflections, curated by Kira Perov and set to be staged in the prestigious surroundings of Villa Panza in Varese (home to the Panza Collection) from 12 May to 28 October 2012.

The 11 video installations that make up the show together document Bill Viola's artistic endeavours from the mid-1970s to the first decade of the 21st century and have been conceived and selected by the artist specifically for Villa Panza – a venue that is celebrated around the world for the collection of contemporary art that Giuseppe Panza di Biumo put together there from the early 1950s onwards. Viola's works will, then, enter into a dialogue – an “elective affinity” – with the humus constituted by Giuseppe Panza's collection, in a project that will transform the exhibition space, composed of the Scuderie (stable block) and one wing of the first floor of the Villa, into a spiritual pathway, a trip infused with light, colour and mysticism, an interior voyage in search of the self.
The installations, which last for between 6 and 60 minutes, invite the viewers to “pause”, to let themselves slow down, and to become both witnesses to the works and an integral part of them.

The title of the exhibition highlights the central theme that accompanies the viewers and brings them closer to Viola's art. One aspect that emerges is the semantic value of the “reflection”, which transcendentally represents the transmutation of the individual in space, whereby the mirror could reflect the ego. Another aspect that comes across is the theme of “reflection” as the desire to know and recognise – and look within – our own being as deeply as possible.

Viola's work as a video artist is concerned above all with the creation of installations and environments that sometimes occupy entire rooms, combining sounds, acoustic effects and projections in architectural spaces that engage with the viewers' bodies, minds and hearts. More than one work by Viola refers to this intimate space of experience into which we are only very rarely permitted to stray – something that seems to ‘lie’ at the bottom of our souls and that makes an impression on our lives. But it is the artist himself who decides the extent to which the public can approach this space; for example, in the 1992 installation entitled “The Sleepers”, on show for the first time in Italy at Villa Panza, the images of sleeping figures are projected onto black and white TV screens lying at the bottom of seven white metal barrels filled to the brim with water. The work can be viewed from a certain distance and only through the transparent liquid, whereas in other works the viewers are enveloped within the space, thereby allowing them to perceive the strong sense of internal tension that is unleashed by the installation.

As Viola puts it: “One of the characteristics of human beings is that they possess a lot of ego, and they have multiple, contradictory identities that they can switch between from one moment to the next. This, for me, is the most exciting thing about working as an artist. It has taught me that the raw material is not the camera and the monitor, but time and experience itself – the work exists not on the screen or the walls of the room, but in the heart and mind of the person who has seen it. It is there where all of the images come alive”.

Viola, the lyrical, poetic genius of video art, has been a pioneer of videotape techniques, with which he began experimenting in 1972 along with another two masters of the artform: Bruce Nauman and Nam June Paik. Viola uses video to explore the phenomenon of perception, which is considered as a route towards self-knowledge. Human beings are not only the central pivot of his contemplation but are also physically at the centre of the lens of the video camera. The people featured in these videos are professional actors who document the exterior representation of human emotions. Viola's entire filmography is shot through with his ontological interest, which is an element in a great many of his works, including “The Innocents” (2008) and “Three Women”(2008), where the artists investigates nothingness – the condition we come from and to which we will return.

Viola's symbolism is cultured and complex, taking in an immense range of knowledge. His works are laden with references both to the western classical tradition and to the eastern tradition, as part of his incessant research into interpretations and understandings of mysteries and of the sense of life. Thanks also to the tool he has selected for the creation of his works, Viola attempts to eliminate the static nature of paintings in the western tradition and, in the process, he often finds himself engaging with the great European tradition of painting. Indeed, the American artist is known for combining cutting-edge technologies with the figurative and expressive heritage of the past, with a particular focus on the corpus of Mediaeval and Renaissance religious painting. In 2002's “Emergence”, for example, Viola reworks the theme of the entombment of Christ using an iconographic approach that takes its cue from a fresco by Masolino da Panicale. In 1992's “Nantes Triptych”, the artist recovers the tripartite form of the 14th-century altarpiece in order to set up, on the one side, the act of birth, and on the other, that of the final breath, with in the centre – as if to mark a pause between one time and space and another – a figure suspended in water.

The beauty of his videos lies in their absence of rhetoric, in the apparent minimalism of the shots, and in their refined and elegant sense of drama, which never becomes wearing – rather, it draws the viewers in, playing with their expectations.

The catalogue, edited by Anna Bernardini, is published by Silvana Editoriale.

Opening times: 10am to 6pm; last entry 5.30pm
Entrance to Villa Panza and the Panza Collection: €11; €6 for students up to and including 26 years of age; €6 for FAI members; €27 for the family package (2 adults + 2 children up to and including 14 years of age)
For more information: FAI –Villa e Collezione Panza – P.zza Litta 1, Varese

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