Bill Viola: Naissance à rebours @ DHC/ART

by Hannah Nashman

The DHC/ART gallery in Old Montreal is honouring their ten year anniversary with a solo exhibition by Bill Viola: Naissance à Rebours (Birth and Re-Birth). This exhibition is open to the public at the DHC in Montreal (465 St- Jean Street) from October 25, 2017 through March 11, 2018. The admission is free, so check it out! The artwork exhibited is unique, thought provoking and incredibly inspirational.

Bill Viola is a video artist and a pioneer to the video art movement. Although he is not an expert of tectonophysics, he is familiar enough and incorporates these concepts into his art. It is evident that Viola is fascinated with reincarnation with his creative portrayal of birth, death, re-birth and life. He injects covert religious undertones and highly spiritual messages in his work, which is rarely seen in contemporary art. He attempts to heighten one’s consciousness through video and sound, challenging the viewer’s experience of existence.

The presentation at DHC/ART incorporates a variety of his art, from four flat-panel video works entitled The Return (2007), Ancestors (2012), Walking on the Edge (2012), and The Encounter (2012) to Ascension (2000), shown through a projector. His most recent major installation is entitled Inverted Birth (2014). As one moves through the artworks, one becomes more and more aware of their own consciousness and place in this world.

A recurrent theme that you will see in Viola’s work is the use of water. In The Return, he uses water as a mediation between old and new film techniques. The woman in the work is first seen from afar in a low quality, grainy black-and-white footage but as she walks towards you, she suddenly transcends through water and comes out in high quality colour. She then moves back into the low quality film, passing through the water again. Transformation is the main theme in this work. However, the interpretation of transformation is left ambiguous and can be read in multiple ways by the viewer.

Ancestors (2010). Image source:

Walking on the Edge (2012). Image source:

The Encounter (2012). Image source:

These three works are displayed together on three separate walls. The figures in these three pieces appear to be walking towards the viewer while in a desert landscape. When the figures are seen from a distance, their bodies are distorted by the mirage of the hot desert plain. As you stand in the middle of the room surrounded by the art, you feel as though you are standing at the point where the people walking towards you would eventually meet. This evokes deeper contemplation from the viewer.

In Ascension, Viola draws on the experience of almost drowning as a child. He describes this encounter as a kind of trauma (but not a fearful one), rather, a strong, emotionally positive one. Viola uses this powerful experience along with his fascination with the slowness of water to encapsulate the viewer in this work.

This is my personal favourite piece in the exhibit at the DHC. The work consists of a man standing shirtless in an ambiguous setting while black, red, and white paint is poured onto his body, eventually running into clear water. Viola uses technology to reverse the footage so that it looks like the water is flowing up his body rather than pouring down. 

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