Bill Viola: Transformation from Within

BILL VIOLA, “Visitation” (video still), 2008.
Photo: Kira Perov.

Friday, November 9, 2012 7:30pm
First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco

1187 Franklin Street (between Geary and O’Farrell)

$50 - General Admission
$35 - Current SFZC Member*
$125 - Special Seating and Reception with Bill Viola following event -  SOLD OUT

For information on ticketing, call: 888-743-9362 (toll free) or 415-475-9362

* Questions about Membership? Call 415-354-0355 or email

Bill Viola, internationally recognized artist, presents a Zen-inspired video installation from his 2008 “Transfigurations” series.

John Walsh, former director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, joins him for a provocative conversation on contemporary art and the capacity of human beings to transform their inner selves.

More about the event:
See, Hear, and Feel the Video Art of Bill Viola - SFWeekly
Life and Death and Life: Bill Viola at the First Unitarian Universalist Church - KQED  



Proceeds from this event will benefit the development of our fourth “virtual” online practice center as part of the Widening the Circle Capital Campaign.

Bill Viola

Bill Viola (b.1951) is internationally recognized as one of today’s leading artists. He has been instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art: For 40 years he has created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast. Viola’s video installations—total environments that envelop the viewer in image and sound—employ state-of-the-art technologies and are distinguished by their precision and direct simplicity. Viola uses video to explore the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge. His works focus on universal human experiences—birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness—and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism. Using the inner language of subjective thoughts and collective memories, his videos communicate to a wide audience, allowing viewers to experience the work directly, and in their own personal way.

John Walsh

John Walsh is an art historian who teaches part-time at Yale. For 17 years he directed the J. Paul Getty Museum, and in 2003 was the curator of an exhibition of Bill Viola’s work at the Getty and the National Gallery in London. He is a member of SFZC.





The title of the series, “Transfigurations” (that includes Three Women and Visitation pictured here) refers to a rare process whereby both the substance and essence of an entity is reconfigured. In physical terms, a transfiguration is a change in form, a remodeling of appearance. The word derives from the ancient Greek ‘metemorphothe,’ or ‘metamorphosis,’ suggesting a complete reformation. However, the word takes on its fullest meaning in the spiritual context when it refers to the moment when a person or an object is transformed not by external means but from within. The resulting change is absolute and thorough, affecting the heart and soul of the subject. Although the outward appearance can sometimes be altered in this process as well, it is not necessary. A deeper, more profound, complete transformation occurs inside, out of sight and, for a person it reformulates the very fiber of their being, finally radiating outward to affect everything around it.

Excerpt from the article by Bill Viola, “The Transfigurations Series” first published in Bill Viola: Transfigurations, Seoul: Kukje Gallery, 2008. 

Bill Viola: Transformation from Within

by Wendy Lewis

Bill Viola, born in 1951, comments “I don’t like the label ‘video artist.’” He describes himself as an artist who “happens to use video because I live in the last part of the twentieth century.” It is helpful to keep this in mind when encountering Viola’s work because video is often associated more with action than it is with atmosphere, image, and sound. The latter are the defining qualities of his videos and video installations.

BILL VIOLA, “Three Women” (video still), 2008.
Photo: Kira Perov.

He is living into the twenty-first century and video technique and art continue to develop, but Viola uses video to convey both the two-dimensionality of traditional art and the movement-in-stillness of sculpture. What video adds are the elements of sound and commentary in the context of the imagery.

Those who have seen his work have their favorites and mine – from the 1999 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) exhibit – is “Slowly Turning Narrative” (1992), which I think of as “the one who” from the soundtrack’s repetition of those three words followed by words such as rages, defends, stands by, wishes, trusts, withholds.

Perhaps as a Zen Buddhist I was particularly struck by this installation since the self, or more specifically the narcissistic self, is the focus of the deconstructive meditation and ethics of Buddhism. In Buddhist teaching, it is the narcissistic self that causes suffering for oneself and others. “The one who” can be self-absorbed and experience the world as a reflection rather than interconnected to itself.

“Slowly Turning Narrative” includes a revolving mirror along with images of people in ordinary scenes, and various sounds along with the chanting voice. I found it both engaging and eerie, and my experiential memory is of bright light, both internal and external, as well as image and sound. The SFMoMA exhibit included an interactive feature online that can be accessed from Viola’s web site or through this direct link. The video installations are described and the soundtracks are included.

The observer of art has to slow down and allow their senses to be more interactive than is usually possible. This includes a type of solitude-among-others that video is particularly able to foster. In a review of Viola’s “The Passion,” Fernando Castro commented: “Bill Viola has realized that the recording of events of our daily context reveals experiences that are universal, deep and mysterious, leaving a metaphor similar to abandoned mathematical equations without solutions.” A degree of surrender is necessary in order to view and experience his work from this perspective.

From “Spirit and Medium: The Video Art of Bill Viola”

by David Morgan

For Viola, the sublime is more often than not a way of using darkness and monumentality, repulsive imagery, and terrifying bursts of sound and light to jar the viewer into meditation on something the artist finds genuinely enthralling: the human condition … Bodies, communion, suffering, transcendence, and death collectively constitute a condition, a worldview that the artist seeks to investigate in his work. Whether one is Buddhist or Christian or atheist (of the Camus variety), coming to terms with suffering and fear and our inability to communicate these states adequately presumes an understanding of the human condition, and Viola finds video a powerful artistic means of exploring these existential facts.

Full article at Image Journal >>>