Suspending and Bending Time

Date and time
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Suspending and Bending Time

Bill Viola: Movements is a tool designed by DHC/ART Education to encourage visitors to develop and elaborate on some key concepts of the exhibition Bill Viola: Naissance à rebours.

Composition: Suspending and Bending Time

And who are you? Time who subdues all things.
Why do you stand on tip-toe? I am ever running.
And why do you have a pair of wings on your feet?
I fly with the wind.
And why do you hold a razor in your right hand?
As a sign to people that I am sharper than any sharp edge.
- Posidippus of Pella [1]

The ancient Greeks had two words for time: kairos and chronos. In mythology, Kairos, the youngest divine son of Zeus, was the personification of opportunity and the perfect moment. Portrayed as a young and handsome naked man, with a bald head except for a lock of hair on his forehead, he could only be grasped if met face-to-face. Whereas chronos indicates the notion of sequential time – that which can be measured – kairos is the suspended moment when all things are possible [2]. The sudden instant of connection with one’s self and with the other, being confronted by overwhelming beauty, truth – but also trauma and despair – all happen within this frame of time outside of time. Due to kairos’ very subjective nature, how can we share these rare moments of self-awareness?

The art of Bill Viola addresses notions of temporality through meditation and the materialization of time itself. Time is his medium, and the essence of his oeuvre, as he raises questions about the cycle of life and death, consciousness, transcendence and memory. In fact, Viola refers to video as a way of “sculpting time,” [3] which he bends, stretches, shortens or reverses, inviting us to expand our sensorial perceptions.

Ancestors (2012), The Encounter (2012) and Walking on the Edge (2012) are part of the Mirage series, set on a long dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert, California. Using the desert as a metaphor for the quest of self-knowledge, he asks us to reflect on the physical and metaphysical aspects of consciousness.

The Encounter suggests a rite of passage. In the hazy desert, two women walk towards the viewer on opposite sides of the screen. They turn toward each other and pause. In a gesture of generosity, the elderly woman solemnly hands the younger woman a gift – a secret, sacred knowledge? During this brief encounter, both characters are transformed and continue on their journeys, as they retrace each other’s path. The juxtaposition of old and new as well as their circular trajectory evokes cycles of nature, as well as questions regarding connection, beauty, fear and mystery. And through this journey we are brought in to the now: “the present moment, with all its uncertainty and promise.” [4]

Bill Viola is often credited with addressing the universal human experience. If any, what are some of the universal questions presented in the exhibition? In your opinion, how do certain groups benefit from this notion of universality?

In a consumer capitalist culture where time is considered a commodity, slowing down can be seen as a transgressive act. Given some of our considerations about the notions of time, what are some of the ways that Ancestors and Walking on the Edge make you aware of the present moment and of your body in space? What happens if you move closer to the screen, hold your breath for a few second or find a more comfortable position? How does it change your reading of the works?

Tanha Gomes
DHC/ART Education


[1] Epigram to the bronze statue of Kairos by Lysippos quoted from COHEN, Simona (2014). Transformations of Time and Temporality in Medieval and Renaissance Art. Leiden-Boston: Brill.
[2] GIBBS, Laura (ed.) (2002). Aesop’s Fables. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[3] MARLOWE, Lara (2014). “Moving images that freeze time”. The Irish Times, March 24 edition.
[4] HANHARDT, John G., Kira PEROV and Bill VIOLA (2015). Bill Viola. London: Thames & Hudson, pp. 231.

Photo: Bill Viola, Walking on the Edge, 2012. Courtesy of Bill Viola Studio.

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