Bill Viola - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 9, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    James Cohan Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    New Yor, James Cohan Gallery,Bill Viola, 5 November –22 December 2005
    Varese, Villa di Panza, Bill Viola: Reflections, 12 May – 28 October 2012 (another example exhibited)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “ I’m interested in what’s inside the self and how that manifests.” BILL VIOLA

    Ablutions, 2005, is a work by Bill Viola, who is now widely regarded as one of the world’s leading contemporary artists. Through his realisation of evocative moving images, Viola has placed himself at the forefront of video art. This prolific artist has not simply distinguished himself, but also given the genre vital prominence
    within the contemporary art world.

    Viola creates visually dynamic videos which generate an insistent and self-reflective dialogue with the viewer. Technical virtuosity and potent introspection are forceful entities which shape Viola’s practice. His videos engage with critical, existential questions and explore the individual and their situation within the world. For the artist, art is not simply psychological, but fundamentally visceral. Consequently, Viola draws upon basic elements of the human condition such as birth, death and the unfolding of consciousness. The dichotomy between mind and body is a central concern within Western culture, and Viola treats the body and mind as equal, unequivocally joined: “I want someone to have an experience that is engaging for their mind, but I also want something that is engaging and involving for their body”.

    The present lot, Ablutions, forms one of the seven parts of Viola’s Purification series. The series records the ritual preparations undertaken by a man and woman before their symbolic rebirth. Purification consists of seven adjoining image sequences across a time span of fifty minutes. The individual sections are: ‘The Approach’, ‘The Arrival’, ‘The Disrobing’, ‘Ablutions’, ‘Basin of Tears’, ‘The Dowsing’, and ‘Dissolution’. Ablutions, records the couple simultaneously washing their hands in two streams of clear water. The ritual repetitiveness of the couple’s actions creates a fascinating double viewpoint – we are transfixed by the movements of the individuals in the present moment and by the suggestion of larger shifts reflecting the stages of human life. The measured pace of the video, the large yet intimate size and the removal of sound all create for the viewer a transcendental space. We are made acutely aware of the movement of time.

    Viola’s work does not simply draw on conventions within Western art, but also extends them, as he explains: “In terms of video, it’s interesting to note that when you look at Old Master pictures … there are two natural elements that are conspicuously under-represented – water, up close and flowing, and fire. There are reasons for that –
    those elements represent the fundamental dynamism of nature, and that’s impossible to embody in a static form.” An even more relevant association is Viola’s involvement with the spiritual traditions of Zen Buddhism as well as his studies of Christian mysticism and Islamic Sufism. This influence manifests itself in his considered observation of physical and mental experiences. Fundamentally, in Ablutions, Viola explores states of being. The nature of our existence is revealed in the minutest details which in turn reflect the great existential questions.



colour video diptych on plasma display mounted vertically on wall
101.5 x 122 x 10.8 cm (39 7/8 x 48 x 4 1/4 in)
This work is number three from the edition of seven plus one artist’s proof and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

£200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for £181,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 October 2012