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The National Portrait Gallery showcases human experience

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington has launched a new exhibition focusing on the pioneering work of artist Bill Viola.

'Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait' gives a new interpretation of the artist's work through the lens of portraiture and technology. Since the early 1970's, Viola has been recognised for creating works that explore the spiritual and perceptual side of the human experience, using cutting-edge technology to create moving images that are emotional and profound.

In his intimate approach to his work, Viola uses a signature slow motion style to gradually reveal a range of emotions communicated via the human face and body.  In his earlier works, Viola also turned the camera on himself, and many of his self-portraits will be on display.

Water is a consistent theme in Viola’s work. “The Raft” (May 2004) is a large video/sound projection that depicts men and women from a variety of ethnic backgrounds caught in a deluge that tests the human spirit.

The Raft by Bill Viola (2004)

The Raft by Bill Viola (2004)

The Raft, May 2004.  Video/Sound Installation.  Image by Kira Perov.

“The Dreamers” (2013), uses seven plasma screens to portray people in repose underwater, eyes closed, fully clothed.  Viola describes the work: “Water ripples across their bodies, subtly animating their movements. The sound of running water permeates the space as dreams filter though the room, drawing the viewer into this watery world.”

The Dreamers by Bill Viola (2013)

The Dreamers, 2013.  Video/sound installation.  Image by Peter Mallet.

One of Viola’s most contemplative pieces, “Man Searching for Immortality/Woman Searching for Eternity” (2013), focuses on aging. Portraits of a man and a woman, each examining their aging naked bodies with a small light, are projected onto two slabs of black granite.  Viola describes them as “looking for evidence of disease or corruption. Thankful for life, they gradually dissolve back into the stone from where they came.”

Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: “Bill Viola approaches portraiture in the spirit of the artists of the early Renaissance, where personal likeness combines with universal themes of spirituality and faith... His great gift is to take age-old questions about human experience and re-present them for contemporary life. He uses pixels instead of paint and film as his form to connect people over time through the art of video. I am delighted to invite visitors to enter the museum’s newly created media galleries to experience portraiture in its most telling and current form: moving revelations of the human body and spirit that befit our digital age.”

'Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait' is on display from 18 November 2016 until 7 May 2017.  For more information, visit the National Portrait Gallery.