Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait

Bill Viola, The Dreamers, 2013, video/sound installation, seven channels of color high-definition video on seven plasma displays mounted vertically on wall. four channels of stereo sound.

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait is a retrospective exhibition happening at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. The exhibition, on view until until May 2017, is celebrating a career of a pioneering video artist Bill Viola. The artist is recognized for his groundbreaking use of video technologies; and his works are known as poetic and performative, exploring the spiritual and perceptual side of human experience. Installed in multiple darker rooms, the show takes a viewer into a few episodes with the moving portraits. They are diverse, as one can imagine, and with each work the viewer’s experience becomes more fluid than staged or patterned. The works follow more circular way of reasoning than linear logic in storytelling.

The portrait of Bill Viola himself is titled Self Portrait, Submerged, 2013 (color high-definition video on LED display; stereo sound; 10:18 minutes). This portrait connects to an idea of mortality, the artist himself is appearing underwater. He looks as if being still with his eyes closed, and he does not seemingly breath. However, the movement becomes present with the unfolding effect of the water moving and altering the stage so to speak. For Viola, self-portrait is an evergoing reflective way to figure oneself out. Self-portrait is always a self-representation. As an artistic discovery it would be more like looking beyond a merely simple representation of oneself; attaching a subjective and changing viewpoint into a larger psychological canvas. We live in an era of selfies, so what more is there to discover, beyond a representation? Where does the normative cultural portrait end, and the new interpretation start?

In many of his works, Bill Viola summons the characters, young and old, male and female. These portraits are submerged underwater in a similar manner as his Self Portrait Submerged. A group of seven works are titled The Dreamers (2013). The portraits appear in a dark room as an installation of plasma displays mounted on the wall. They radiate very subtle visuality. There is water underneath of each character as their personal stage. It is the essence of the water that animates the otherwise still portraits to become sifting moments in space. The plasma videos are accompanied with a sound of a running water, which appears as a surrounding pulse for the portraits. These portraits take form as immersing works. In a way they are virtual, or the time is stopped as if there was an episode happening in another realm or in outer space. Each personality emerges as colors, when their fabric and hair covered bodies measure the dimensionality of the water. They contour and camouflouge barely within its surface.

A very different video setting is formed around a work titled The Reflecting Pool originating from 1977-79. In the video, a man is emerging from the forest standing in front of the pool. As he is leaping up in a sudden movement, jumping into the water, the image freezes. The person remains still in the center of the image; he is frozen whilst the water in the pool is slightly moving and changing. Another take on a theme of time passing. This time, the person is also immersed into the surroundings even more, and perhaps becoming one with the green lush with all his senses.

In a massive one screen video installation, a group of nineteen men and women from various ethnic backgrounds are struck by a great amount of water coming from a high pressure hose. The video called The Raft (May 2004), expresses different actions and reactions from the people to a seemingly catastrophic situation. Some are struggling physically showing hardship of survival with their bodies, the others remain more upright; yet all characters are touched and moved by the sudden force. The scene of the people reacting with their personal response, with their bodies moving, resisting, twisting, and falling, is effective. In the end, the water stops and leaves people with altered positions. The narrative brings into mind a natural force, which takes over peoples’ lives and controls their surroundings. An occurrence, which people cannot control. The video story opens a new stance to altered ways of being flooded, or being carried away with life occurrences.

 

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait exhibition is a well curated retrospective to the artist’s forty year career. It includes several works investigating life cycles, and the process of aging. It touches a question of gender, and the metaphysical place for people in the world. His video works speak with the language and gesture of the body and face. They confront us with emotion and presence. Portraits are not always beautiful, or the characters are not always beautiful in a sense of how we measure our bodily image. But they echo beauty with their truthfulness and soul, which goes further than a normative cultural presentation.

Bill Viola started his discovery with a Portapak camera in the early 1970s. Since that time, the video has been his medium of expression.

Bill Viola, Surrender, 2001. Color video diptych on two plasma displays mounted vertically on wall; 18:00 minutes. Performers: John Fleck, Weba Garretson.
Bill Viola, Surrender, 2001. Color video diptych on two plasma displays mounted vertically on wall; 18:00 minutes. Performers: John Fleck, Weba Garretson.

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More info about Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery 

More info about the artist on James Cohan Gallery 

Artist website: http://www.billviola.com/

 

Bettina Pousttchi explores world time and architectural history in east coast premiere

Bettina Pousttchi: World Time Clock at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Bettina Pousttchi is a Berlin-based artist working in photography, video, and sculpture. German-Iranian artist studied at the Kunstackademie Düsseldorf, and participated in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York from 1999–2000. Pousttchi has exhibited throughout Europe, including Amsterdam, Berlin, Köln, and London, and participated in the Venice Biennale in 2003 and 2009. She held her first U.S. solo exhibition in 2014 at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas.

Through photography and sculpture, Bettina Pousttchi is interested in altering architectural buildings and monuments as indicators of the past and media of remembrance. Currently, the artist exhibits in two different museum spaces in Washington D.C. First exhibition titled Bettina Pousttchi: World Time Clock is on view until May 29, 2017, at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden filling the museum’s third-level inner-ring galleries. Concurrently with the World Time Clock series, The Phillips Collection presents her second D.C. appearance with the works titled Double Monuments. This exhibition by Bettina Pousttchi  is on view until October 2, 2016.

Pousttchi’s exhibition at the Hirshorn is a premiere of her World Time Clock series, a project the artist began in 2008 and recently completed. The installation consists of a group of photographs that she created in 24 time zones around the globe over the last eight years. The artist has often contemplated systems of time and space in her art. To accomplish the World Time Clock photography, she traveled the globe capturing a portrait of a public clock in each time zones. In the final production, represented are locales far apart from each other, such as Bangkok, Moscow, Los Angeles and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The circular format of the Hirshhorn’s inner-ring galleries on third floor works well with the theme of this exhibition.

Bettina Pousttchi's World Time Clock at the Hirshorn's third floor is on view until May 29, 2017.
Bettina Pousttchi’s World Time Clock at the Hirshorn’s third floor is on view until May 29, 2017.

 

The photographs each show a clock displaying the same local time: five minutes before two. Together the images suggest a sense of suspended time and what the artist calls “imaginary synchronism.” Seen in close-up, the clocks are united in a single scheme that calls to mind the historic role of Washington as the site of the International Meridian Conference in 1884. It was here that the Greenwich Meridian was adopted as a universal standard, determining a zero point for the measurement of both longitude and time.

Bettina Pousttchi’s second display, on view at the Phillips Collection until October 2, takes on from the notion of history and memory of architecture. The exhibition is part of the Phillips’s ongoing series Intersections, which interestingly highlights contemporary art and artists in conjunction to the museum’s permanent collection, history, and architecture. With her works Double Monuments for Flavin and Tatlin (2013), Pousttchi is in conversation with art and architectural histories, addressing the historic works of Russian Constructivist sculptor and architect Vladimir Tatlin from the 1920s, and American minimalist artist Dan Flavin from the 1960s. Pousttchi’s sculptural installation is composed of materials deriving from street barricades, and metal crowd barriers, which the artist transformed into sculptural forms. The objects create contrast and volume with neon that grows inside the powder-coated abstract forms. The sculptures include spiraling neon light tubes reminiscing those fluorescent light works created by Dan Flavin. The five sculptures range from 5 to 12 feet creating dramatic presence and enhancing both sculptural form and architectural setting at the Phillips. Their tower-like shape is a homage to Tatlin’s sculptural works, yet they have a theme and form of their own. Pousttchi’s works carry an idea of mystery of bringing in outdoor elements into the white gallery space. The white paint creates sophistication out of the raw urban elements while neon makes them settle somewhere in between the indoors-outdoors -scale.

Bettina Pousttchi Double Monuments
Bettina Pousttchi with Double Monuments on view at the Phillips Collection.

Loud power of art: don’t be silent

Dan Flavin’s fluorescent sculptures are ‘situational’ in a way that they get their appearance in relation to the context and space on which they are displayed. His sculpture installation untitled (to Helga and Carlo, with respect and affection), reflects blue light with immense presence. When the spectator walks through the installation path she sees the surroundings as altered moments taking in her own reflection on the floor. But why is Flavin’s work so important? The question arises because Flavin’s minimalist art has drawn on a plenty of attention at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in DC. The work extends more than ninety feet in size and is paired with the wall-mounted piece monument, which consists of white bulbs inspired by constructivist art. The first installation of the untitled was at the Kunsthalle Basel in 1975.

It speaks about architectural difference and boundaries. The sculpture-series recreates the architectural environment, it sets barriers making the room where the continuum is installed to appear as an infinite of the sculpture itself. And it creates a path in the space. The installation is composed of sculptural pieces varying in size and color.  By using industrial, somewhat regular fluorescent lights to produce artwork, Flavin shows how minimalist materials create powerful propositions about our environments and public spaces. The power lies in it that the every-day contest enters the museum space. What is this about, who am I when I walk this path? And this light brings me to the next door with words on capital letters that speak louder than I’m used to.

Dan Flavin&Barbara Kruger installations at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Now it is time to stop and look around again, or actually down, since the floor has a message. Barbara Kruger’s installation since August 2012 at the Hirshhorn Museum’s lower level lobby area mixes the architecture of the space into a complete mismatch. It draws us in with text written allover on the floors, walls, and on the escalator leading up. And the printed smileys amuse and terrorize the restrooms. Barbara Kruger’s installation Belief + Doubt, speaks a loud red, white and black language. The messages are those of the digital age. We dwell through the global consumerist culture, in which our omnipotence is created around a simple truth of “I shop therefore I am”, as stated in the most well-known work made by Kruger. The truth is, if we can say so in the days of pluralist opinions, that we need Barbara Kruger’s loud art. If the politics of the everyday, the human culture and the global age needs of the voice that has an innate power to speak with capital wordings, it is hers. Yet, as an artist Kruger is tricky avoiding the task of giving us simple reasons to be her fan and give complete answers why the words chosen in her art would set truth about anything. Say this, and don’t think you could destroy differences, and there is not a one truth?

“Belief is tricky because left to its own devices it can court a kind of surety, an unquestioning allegiance that fears doubt and destroys difference.” -Barbara Kruger

 

Barbara Kruger's installation at Hirshorn Museum
Barbara Kruger’s installation at Hirshhorn Museum

Kruger is the poet laureate of the age of the spectacle. In her early career, she was working for Conde Nast Publications in photography and design. In the late 1970s, the artist begun creating photomontages with found pictures adding texts in them that would alter or complicate the meaning of the images.  At the Hirshhorn Museum setting, printed vinyl words and sentences invite the public to get involved, ponder the words, and create their own meaning and association based on the moment and the environment. Meanings of these phrases are open-ended because the every-day life just is with all the power-structures that we face or try to avoid. But at the same time the words are not only words, they are shouting: get involved, speak out loud, speak freely, don’t be silent, there are so many important words! Both great installations are still on view in Washington D.C.

photos: FirstindigoandLifestyle
photos: FirstindigoandLifestyle