The Unspeakable Art of Bill Viola, Ronald R. Bernier
Ronald R. Bernier

The Unspeakable Art of Bill Viola

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The breach of art from religion is just one of the many unhappy legacies of modernism. There was a time, however, when the aesthetic and the spiritual were of a piece. This study of the work of American video artist Bill Viola considers the possible reemergence of a theological dimension to contemporary art--a reenchantment of art, as some have called it. Using the high-tech apparatus of modern video, Viola's art is rooted precisely in this theological tradition of transcendent mystical experience and spiritual self-concentration. The technological apotheosis of modern image-making--high speed film, high-definition video, LCD and plasma screens, and sophisticated sound recording--are put to use by Viola in ways that significantly challenge prevailing intellectual and artistic traditions and return us to the power of the Sublime--that which, by definition, defeats language. Viola's art as such converges with postmodern notions of the unrepresentable and with the ancient theological tradition of apophasis, speaking away or unsaying. The fullness of meaning, then, appears only as a promise of presence through embodied absence, neither fully here and now nor entirely elsewhere and beyond. This study seeks to define, through the work of a courageous and thoughtful contemporary artist, the theological sublime as an aesthetic of revelation.
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137 printed pages
Original publication



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