BILL VIOLA: The Raft
Feb 03, 2018 — May 12, 2018
The Raft by Bill Viola is part of a special exhibition series on the museum’s second floor that is focused on historically significant film and video artists. Offering an opportunity to carefully study the medium, each work in this series is presented over the course of many months in a dedicated black box. This programming is internationally diverse, and over the course of one year it features three artworks produced for the single-channel video format.
Active since the early 1970s as a pioneer of the genre, Bill Viola has been instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art. For 45 years he has created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast. Viola’s video installations—total environments that envelop the viewer in image and sound—employ state-of-the-art technologies and are distinguished by their precision and direct simplicity. His single channel videotapes have been widely broadcast and presented cinematically, while his writings have been extensively published, and translated for international readers.
Viola uses video to explore the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge. His works focus on universal human experiences—birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness—and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism. Using the inner language of subjective thoughts and collective memories, his videos communicate to a wide audience, allowing viewers to experience the work directly, and in their own personal way.
The Raft was created by Viola in 2004 as a commission for the Athens Olympics. In this work, a group of 19 people are dramatically subjected to physical forces of nature. The 10-minute piece visually represents a moment of disaster and its aftermath, as experienced by a cross-section of humanity. Created on-set with actors and stunt people, the action is described by the artist as follows: A group of 19 men and women from a variety of ethnic and economic backgrounds are suddenly struck by a massive onslaught of water from a high-pressure hose. Some are immediately knocked over and others brace themselves against the unprovoked deluge. Water flies everywhere, clothing and bodies are pummeled, faces and limbs contort in stress and agony against the cold, hard force. People in the group cling to each other for survival, as the act of simply remaining upright becomes an intense physical struggle. Then, as suddenly as it arrived, the water stops, leaving behind a band of suffering, bewildered, and battered individuals. The group slowly recovers. Viola comments, “I wanted to make a piece for our time in which nobody gets killed; people withstand the onslaught, and they get back on their feet and they go at it again.”
Viola’s work has been the subject of multiple solo exhibitions across Europe over the last year, including retrospectives at three museums: Deichtorhallen Hamburg in Germany, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy, and Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain. The Raft was most recently featured in summer 2017 at the Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany, for Documenta 14.
For a full biography, please see the full exhibition announcement below.