By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Bill Viola(Photo by Larry Hirshowitz)
VIOLA'S TIGHTROPE WALK BETWEEN THE HORNS of that dilemma has become an ever more precise balancing act as he has reduced the spectacular theatricality of his work over the course of "The Passions." But the layout of the show seems to guide the viewer through an inverted version of this stripping-away process, building in tension to the final, cathartic environment. Viola has at one point mentioned Paleolithic cave paintings with an obvious sense of identification, and I couldn't help being reminded of accounts of these ancient installations. You would have to writhe on your belly through dark, narrow fissures for an hour to finally reach their cathedral-like caverns, where the wall paintings would spring to life by flickering torchlight.
"This is the only sound piece and the only real old-fashioned Bill Viola environment; it's completely dark, with five projections of what you could only call altered scenes — turned upside down and backward — of men hitting the water."
Walsh is explaining Five Angels for the Millennium, the last piece in the exhibit and a work strongly reminiscent of the earlier Stations. "Mostly the figures levitate in some way: Instead of being dragged down by gravity into a watery death, they come exploding out." We move through the space where the gift shop will be installed, back to the lobby and the Six Heads perpetually contorting. "So you start with small silent studies of heads, and you make the circuit seeing increasingly theatrical enactments. Everything is clear and sharp and earthbound and human in the first part, and then you're sort of — out of this world."
Emerging into the light of day from Viola's crepuscular world is like awakening from a dream, and even though the slanting rays of the setting sun give the Getty a melancholic Mediterranean hush, it feels as if the movie has returned to its regular speed. On the drive home I happen to see a billboard for a PalmPilot or something with the catchy ad copy "30 minutes. Doodle or download?" and begin to have some doubts about Viola's optimism re digital technology's capacity to nurture individual creativity. Yet there is a fundamental rejection of authority in Viola's work that rings true, in spite of its reliance on state-of-the-art, corporate-produced electronics and its placement in the ultimate fortress of Western cultural hegemony that petrodollars built. Recalling the individual videos in my mind's eye, I am lulled back into that cyclical, contemplative mode of reality where our sense of categorical emotional isolation isn't quite what it seems, and for a moment — even though I'm creeping along the eastbound 10 at rush hour surrounded by thousands of hermetically contained human beings desperate to compress time — it feels like this is mystory.
BILL VIOLA: The Passions | At the J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM, 1200 Getty Center Drive | January 28 through April 27