My Bill Viola Video Marathon

In a simple room based on a nun’s cell, the performer, Weba Garretson, goes about her daily routine — yoga in the morning, sewing at midd...


In a simple room based on a nun’s cell, the performer, Weba Garretson, goes about her daily routine — yoga in the morning, sewing at midday, writing with frustration in the afternoon, a ritualistic lighting of candles at night, and finally preparing for bed. But the singular window in each panel enlarges the story with a view of a tree passing through the seasons. Here on first take, it seemed to me a whole life lived ending in death, and I succumbed to what I call the dollhouse theory of seeing myself in the interior and living the experience. It was sobering to feel life fleeting by.

Finally, there is Mr. Viola’s fascination with water. He has often spoken of his discovery of a magical underwater world in a near-drowning accident at age 6. In the film, “I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like,” the enigmatic title drawn from the Rig-Veda, the opening sequence conveys this sensation. Completed in 1986, after three years of recording and editing, it is both a surreal and specific rendering of the fragility and intermingling of animal and human life, from extreme close-ups of birds in zoos and of underground caves to a fire-walking ceremony in a Hindu community in Fiji. As he zeros in on the eye of an owl, suddenly I could see the artist reflected in its black pupil. By the end of the marathon, I had had an illuminating encounter with life, death and consciousness through Bill Viola’s own experimental and farseeing eye.


I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like: The Art of Bill Viola

Through Sept. 15 at the Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia; 215-278-7000; barnesfoundation.org. (Screenings for “I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like”: Wednesdays, through Sept. 11 at 1 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 1 at noon; Friday, Sept. 6, 6 p.m.)

Bill Viola: Ocean Without a Shore

Through Dec. 31 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118-128 North Broad Street, Philadelphia; 215-972-7600, pafa.org.

Bill Viola: The Veiling

Through Oct. 6 at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, 1214 Arch Street, Philadelphia; 215-561-8888, fabricworkshopandmuseum.org.


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