Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bill Viola: The Night Journey

The Night Journey by Bill Viola, USC Game Innovation Lab (link)

Video artist Bill Viola is developing an experimental video game with USC Game Innovation Lab. The project has been in the works since 2005 and will be completed sometime this year. It's unknown whether the immersive artwork will be made available for home use, or will only be experienced in art settings and churches (link) (link).


Ocean Without a Shore, 2007
3-channel High Definition Video/Sound Installation
Production stills
Photo: Kira Perov

Bill Viola's An Ocean Without a Shore Church of San Gallo, Venice 2007 Venice Biennale (more info)


The Fall into Paradise, 2005
Video/sound installation
Screen size: 10.5 ft. X 14 ft. (320 cm x 427 cm)
9 minutes and 58 seconds
Photo: Kira Perov

All works of art, though visible, represent invisible things.

-- Bill Viola


Old Oak (Study), 2005
Color High-Definition video
on LCD flat panel mounted on wall
14 x 24.8 x 3.5 in (35.5 x 63 x 8.9 cm)
30:16 minutes

"At certain points in the game, the screen goes black and the remote can no longer be used. "The idea that you have to relinquish control comes up in most spiritual traditions," says Viola, who is interested in the commonalities between Eastern and Western religions. With their power to direct the game removed, players can then sit back and watch "dreams" based on how they have moved through the game’s world up to that point. These dreams are created through a search engine, which compiles clips from Viola's archive of video work from the past 25 years. The visuals may be disconcerting (a dog lunging out of the darkness, a child walking alone) or beautiful. "The core of this world is dreams—not just the scary dream of being chased but dreams of ancient cultures," says Viola, who counts among his inspirations the writings of the Islamic mystic Rumi and the Greek philosopher Plotinus.

If players continue the game for long enough, their dream sequences acquire color and eventually carry them, along with a group of virtual people, through streams and toward a lighted pavilion. "It's like the transmigration of souls," says Viola, who shot the footage for that sequence when he and his wife and collaborator, Kira Perov, were looking at a nocturnal volcanic eruption in Hawaii."

-- Hilarie M. Sheets "Click Here for Enlightenment" ARTnews April 2010 (link)


Pneuma, 1994/2009
14 x 20 x 20 feet (4.3 x 6.7 x 8.3 meters) room dimensions
Three channels black-and-white High-Definition video
projected into three corners of a darkened,
square space; three channels amplified sound
Continuous running

"The Night Journey is a video game/art project based on the universal story of an individual mystic's journey toward enlightenment.

Visual inspiration for The Night Journey is drawn from the prior works of Bill Viola. Narrative inspiration comes from the lives and writings of great historical figures including: Rumi, the 13th century Islamic poet and mystic; Ryokan, the 18th century Zen Buddhist poet; St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic and poet; and Plotinus, the 3rd century philosopher. The interactive design attempts to evoke in the player's mind a sense of the archetypal journey of enlightenment through the "mechanics" of the game experience - i.e. the choices and actions of the player during the game.

The player's voyage through The Night Journey takes them through a poetic landscape, a space that has more reflective and spiritual qualities than geographical ones. The core mechanic in the game is the act of traveling and reflecting rather than reaching certain destinations - the trip along a path of enlightenment.

The game is being developed with video game technologies, but attempts to stretch the boundaries of what game experiences may communicate with its unique visual design, content and mechanics. The team has created a set of custom post-processing techniques for the 3D environment that evoke the sense of "explorable video," integrating the imagery of Bill Viola's prior work into the game world at both a technical and creative level."

-- USC Game Innovation Lab (link)


Four Hands, 2001
Black-and-white video polyptych
on four LCD flat panels mounted on shelf
9 x 51 x 8 in (22.9 x 129.5 x 20.3 cm)
Continuous running

Until that moment my measure of success in art resided within the confines of exhibiting in museums, galleries and alternative art spaces. In Japan it was beginning to sink in that perhaps art resided in life itself, that as a practice it derives primarily from the quality of experience, depth of thought and devotion of the maker. Everything else, virtuosity with the materials, novelty of the idea or approach, innovation in craft or technique, skill of presentation, historical significance, importance of the venue, in short, almost everything I learned to value in art school - was secondary.

-- Bill Viola, interviewed in "The Light Enters You" by Shambhala Sun (link)

Bill Viola Artist's Talk on the occasion of LOVE/DEATH: The Tristan Project Tate Channel (link)

MP3–Bill Viola on WNYC's Soundcheck with John Schaefer (link)

Bill Viola on Wikipedia (link)

Bill Viola Website (link)

The Night Journey (link)


Passage Into Night, 2005
Color high-definition video installation
47.6 X 28.5 inches
50 minutes and 14 seconds
Photo: Kira Perov

All still images from James Cohan Gallery (link)


◦ Update: Interview with Bill Viola ARTPULSE Magazine April 2011


  1. omg this is great stuff, thanks for collecting it

  2. if you've never been in one of his installations, try to find one and experience it yourself.