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« Tout ce qui bouge sur un écran est du cinéma. » (Jean Renoir)

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Bill Viola, The Reflecting Pool, 1979

The illusion of stillness
Bill Viola's world stands still. This is the first impression we get after we have taken our places in the row of seating and our eyes are not yet fully immersed into what is happening on the screen: Viola - as protagonist of his own work of art - emerges from a dense deciduous forest into a clearing in the foreground, which, for the observer, is filled by an artificial pond or pool. The bottom edge of the picture is bordered by water, only the bank in front of the forest opposite, surrounded by natural stone and grass, remains visible. As the engine noise of an aeroplane slowly fades away in the background, Viola approaches the edge of the pool. There, he takes off his shoes and squats down yelling and prepares to make a powerful jump. Yet directly after he jumps up, in that fragment of a second which should have preceded a noisy dive into the "reflecting pool", something unexpected happens. His body freezes in mid-air and pauses in the foetal position above the surface of the water. As the camera whirrs on, time seems to stand still. Stillness is in no way Viola's subject however. The choice of his medium, namely video, is proof of that. On the contrary, the artist, born in 1951, takes as his themes exclusively the flowing aspects of human existence, those which never come to a standstill: Birth and death, our perception of time and its dissolution, consciousness, conscience and memory. In these works, he repeatedly uses the substance water as a motif. Viola is interested in transformations, in processes, even if the movements in his videos seem unhurried, like an orchestration of slow and reflective looking. In so doing, the American, as he sees it, does not appear as something like a creator of stories, rather he sees himself as the "secret observer", who lets the spectators take part in his process of perception by way of his video camera. The effect of this real-time moment on the media-savvy observers is unusually calm at first, for their eyes are used to individual cut scenes and rapid plot development from the movie world.

"The Reflecting Pool", one of Viola's early video works created between 1977 and 1979, is thus in no way a static artwork. And the observer quickly notices this, for although Viola's body freezes in the air, the water continues to ripple and undulate atmospherically beneath him.
In the apparent static nature of time, the sun's rays change the numerous green shades of the pond. Drops fall from the frozen figure, whose silhouette gradually disappears and merges with the colours of the forest. Viola immerses himself into nature, without being in direct contact with it.

Reflected identity
For the artist, "water" is a symbol of life and at the same time an important element of the roughly 150 works which he has produced since the 1970s. His unbroken reference to nature and "water" also stems from the fact that for decades now, he has drawn inspiration from Chinese Taoism, Buddhism and from Greek philosophers. His works range from simple single-channel videos to video installations filling a whole room, which the artist describes as "visual poems".

In the end, Viola's focus is always on the illusion of our own observations. According to him, we cannot grasp our material world with our eyes, because no clear distinction can be made between reality and illusion. This is comparable, he says, to the image on a computer monitor as opposed to its real inner workings. Our true identity, as Viola believes, is only visible when it is reflected.

It is this fundamental thought on reflected, and therefore now visible, reality that Viola also aims to show in "The Reflecting Pool": We only see the true inner life of the man, who hangs in the air as a static illusion, on the living surface of the water. Viola himself describes these changes as "stages of a personal journey". Little by little, Viola's body above the pool fades away, while a person diving appears at the bottom of the darkening water. Towards the end, the pond forms itself into concentric circles, like a kind of solemn announcement of the following: The "new", suddenly undressed body of Bill Viola gets out of the water, leaves the clearing and the nine-minute story starts again.

The invisible baptism
When we return to the real world having seen "The Reflecting Pool", we may be irritated. What was the mysterious infinite loop all about? According to Viola, the observer was witness to a baptism, a person's rebirth reflected by the water. And he plays dramatically with our perception: The frozen individual disappears from mid-air like a phantom, he "dies" and renews himself in another place as a shadow in the water, to finally prepare to jump again - a symbol of the cycle of constant, cryptic processes of change in our lives. The actual "rite of baptism" however, the immersion, remains invisible to the observer.

"The Reflecting Pool" was made almost 30 years ago with analogue video techniques such as fading and freeze frames on different levels. "Although Viola's work contrasts with contemporary digital technology, in all these years it has not lost even the tiniest amount of artistic value", according to sculptor Christiane Erdmann, who is also curator of the themed exhibition "Water" at the Künstlerverein Walkmühle e.V. in Wiesbaden, where "The Reflecting Pool" was on display in Germany in September 2006. "On the contrary", she continues, "with enthusiastic and inspiring consistency, Viola always explores the same themes and in so doing, surpasses himself each time anew." Thus it may well be inventiveness and a feel for surprises that ensure Viola international success and that his artistic world never stands still. Whether these actually are a transfer, banished to video tape, of our undulating life, is up to the observer to decide.

Source : http://www.brita.net/art_in_the_surface_of_the_water.html

Reflecting Pool. 7’ - 1977-1979

Un homme sort de la forêt et s’installe debout au bord d’une piscine. De face, on peut voir son reflet dans l’eau. Il saute alors et son corps se fige, suspendu en l’air. Le reflet a disparu.
Dans la piscine s’organise une vie de mouvements divers. Le corps de l’homme se dissout, se désagrège dans les feuillages, pendant que son reflet debout, la trace mnésique de sa présence, apparaît dans l’eau. Il surgit des profondeurs de la piscine et s’évanouit dans la forêt.
Ainsi l’image est fragmentée en trois niveaux de temps distincts, et reconstruite de telle sorte qu’elle renvoie à la représentation d’un espace unique, ses lignes de division se calquant sur la composition d’origine. Bill Viola sculpte du temps dans la matière vidéo.

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