DOI link for I
DOI link for I
Since the early 1970s, Bill Viola (born in the United States in 1951) has been a pioneering figure in the development of video as a medium within fine art practice. In both his installation and tape-based work he has readily engaged with innovations in media technology to explore themes of sensory perception and the body as the locus of consciousness and spiritual discovery. I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like is one of
Viola’s most ambitious and significant tape-based works. Created for the Contemporary Art Television Fund, with support from a number of other agencies, it was broadcast in 1987 by WGBH Boston as part of their ‘‘New Television’’ season. It was made from footage gathered over a period of several years, during part of which Viola was artist in residence at San Diego Zoo. During this time he also visited and recorded religious festivals in Fiji and spent many weeks following a herd of bison in Wind Cave National Park, South
Dakota. The title is taken from the Sanskrit text Rig Veda, which reflects Viola’s long-term interest in Eastern religions. The work is a highly personal meditation on the cycles of life and death, animal consciousness and the human condition, with humanity being considered as bound to the natural world, yet also striving to understand and transcend this reality thorough art, technology, and spiritual quest. I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like is struc-
tured thematically in five chapters: ‘‘Il corpo scuro (The Dark Body),’’ ‘‘The Language of the Birds,’’ The Night of the Senses,’’ ‘‘Stunned by the Drum,’’ and ‘‘The Living Flame.’’ It commences with the camera sliding slowly beneath the surface of a mountain lake, suggesting the submersed body and drowning imagery, which is a familiar visual theme in Viola’s work. This sense of slippage into another realm is compounded as the camera explores the underground world of a cave
system, followed by a series of close-ups of a flyblown animal carcass and a sequence of long, mainly static, shots of a bison herd in a wilderness landscape. The second chapter, ‘‘The Language of the Birds,’’ comprises a series of close-up shots of the eyes of a variety of captive birds, the section closing with an emblematic image of the artist reflected in the eye of an owl. This self-reflexive imagery is developed in the following chapter, ‘‘Night of the Senses.’’ In a play of reflections and direct shots, Viola is seen working at a desk at night where he studies various books, views footage of birds on a video monitor, and eats an elaborately arranged meal. The work shifts in form throughout the chapters.