Bill Viola. Techno-Mysticism

Clip from Mark Kidel, Bill Viola: The Eye of the Heart, 2003. Calliope Media and BBC with ARTE France, video, 59 minutes.

Two poles of knowledge—spirituality and technology—characterize Bill Viola’s art. It’s an art of affect, in which sound and image elicit powerful emotion and profound spiritual meaning. A devoted student of Eastern and Western mysticism, he sees video cameras as keepers of the soul—“they capture souls, they hold souls, and you will be able to play them back”1—and the relationship between technology and spirituality as fundamentally linked. The electronic image and digital technologies, which are in essence communication technologies, are not modeled after the material world; rather, Viola reasons that they represent a phenomenon that in the past has only existed spiritually.2 Electronic images don’t exist in reality—when the museum closes and the videos are turned off, Viola’s works disappear—but instead occupy the empty space between material objects.

  1. Bill Viola, interview with Christian Lund, London, 2011, featured in “Cameras Are Keepers of the Souls,” Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark, posted January 16, 2019, video, 28:09 minutes, available at ↩︎

  2. Bill Viola, “Presence and Absence: Vision and the Invisible in the Media Age,” Tanner Lecture in Human Values, March 7, 2007, Tanner Humanities Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, video, 1:45:47 hours, available at{.underline}. ↩︎