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Bill Viola

Room for St. John of the Cross

1983

Exploring sense-perception as an avenue to self-knowledge, Bill Viola’s works focus on universal experiences—birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness—and have roots in Eastern and Western art as well as diverse spiritual traditions. In Room for St. John of the Cross, the rear wall of a dark gallery features jittery black-and-white video footage of snow-capped mountains accompanied by the cacophonous sound of wind. In the center of the gallery sits a small earth-covered structure containing a water-filled pitcher and a four-inch monitor displaying color video of a mountain. Peering inside the single window-like opening, one can hear a soft voice reciting the poetry of 16th-century Spanish mystic Juan de Yepes, who was imprisoned for nine months in a cell the size of the structure. Though he endured great suffering, St. John (as he was later canonized) wrote of the spiritual freedom he achieved through his love for God. Visitors to the work may experience it spatially, physically, emotionally, psychologically, or intellectually as part of a transformative process.

Bill Viola (b. 1951, New York; lives and works in Long Beach, California)
Room for St. John of the Cross, 1983
Video/sound installation
Room dimensions: 168 x 288 x 360 in.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
The El Paso Natural Gas Company Fund for California Art

I do not distinguish between the inner and outer landscapes, between the environment at the physical world out there (the “hard” stuff) and the mental images of the environment within each and every individual (the “soft” stuff). It is the tension, the transition, the exchange, and the resonance between these two modalities that energize and define our reality. —Bill Viola