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Sponsored by: Sponsor: Iberdrola
Sponsored by: Sponsor: Iberdrola
Sabias que Bill Viola

Bill Viola installing Bank Image Bank, Lincoln First Bank, Rochester, New York, January 1974 Photo: Phillip S. Block.

Sabias que Bill Viola the path

Bill Viola Going Forth by Day, Production drawings for “The Path”, July 2001

sabias que Bill Viola mary

Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), installation view St. Paul’s Cathedral, 2014. Photo: Peter Mallet, Courtesy: Blain/Southern.

Did you know that...?

As part of the didaktika project, the Museum designs educational spaces and special activities that complement each exhibition.

The educational space in the exhibition provides information on Bill Viola, one of the world’s most prominent video artists, whose career spans more than 40 years and whose works are on display in the galleries. Viola has played a crucial role in the origin, evolution, and relevance of audiovisual technologies as a medium for artistic expression. Included is an overview of the essential features that define his career. It examines his early years as an artist after he discovered the possibilities of video at Syracuse University (New York), along with his experimentation with images and music, and follows the development of one major work as captured in the pages and drawings of his Notebook for Going Forth By Day (2002).

Viola’s Start with Video

Bill Viola spent four years engaged in learning and experimentation in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University in New York (1969–1973). There he discovered the latest in portable video equipment and was encouraged by his professor Jack Nelson to develop his singular vision. Nelson directed the new “Experimental Studios” program, which Viola joined in 1971, signaling a shift in his artistic education. Additionally, Viola gained technical experience when he worked with other student colleagues to build and found a cable television system and color studio in the university’s student center, the Synapse Video Center. Another of Nelson’s students whom Bill met was David Ross, who was appointed curator of the first video department in the country at the Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse) in 1971. Viola was employed by Ross in this museum between 1972 and 1974 and gained much experience as assistant to other artists who worked in the early forms of video art, such as Peter Campus and Nam June Paik. Viola had his own show at the Everson Museum in 1975. From 1974–76 Viola worked as the technical production director in the video art studio art/tapes/22 in Florence and was the artist-in-residence at WNET/Thirteen Television Laboratory in New York (1976–81), where he worked with the most innovative television broadcasting technology for the first time.

Viola’s Creative Methodology

“Generally speaking, I always work from emotion and intuition, and I often don’t even understand what I’m doing until it takes shape on paper; I tend to write it down or make a drawing. That’s when the work begins to reveal its mysteries to me.”

Bill Viola’s habit of registering everything that sparks his interest dates back to his student days at Syracuse University. He uses three different kinds of albums to organize his ideas: his journals, where he jots down excerpts from readings, personal experiences, and ideas on possible creations; his project notebooks, which focus on a specific artistic project and the different possible ways he can approach it; and his production notebooks, in which he writes detailed explanations of each of the elements of a specific work (the location or set, the timeline, the lighting needs, actors, if any). Based on this documentation, Kira Perov, executive producer of his works and executive director of the Bill Viola Studio, arranges, together with a producer, the elements needed to produce and create the final piece, while the artist is in charge of conveying to the actors and technicians involved in the recording process what he needs to capture in each video.

Art and spirituality

While still a student, Bill Viola began to take an interest in the mysticism of the Western and Eastern traditions and to study texts and poetry from medieval Christian texts of San Juan de la Cruz to Zen philosophy and Islamic Sufism. Convinced that art should help us search for a deeper understanding of our own existence, Viola uses video as a means of expression to inquire into the essential questions that have always concerned human beings: life, death, birth, and suffering. With his works, he creates “an enveloping emotional experience like that of a church”, in his own words. In fact, throughout his career he has deliberately displayed some of his works in current or former places of worship. The Messenger, was created in 1996 for Durham Cathedral (UK); Ocean without a Shore, was unveiled at the Chiesa di San Gallo during the 2007 Venice Biennale; and Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) and Mary, were installed in 2014 and 2016, respectively, in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. All of these pieces offer a profound reflection on life, death, and rebirth, recurring themes throughout his artistic career.


Music is an essential part of the life and works of Bill Viola. In 1973, after graduating from Syracuse University, where he also studied electronic music, he participated in a workshop on New Music taught by David Tudor. A pianist and pioneering composer of experimental music, through whom Viola also discovered the innovative music of John Cage, Tudor invited Viola to contribute to his Rainforest project along with other emerging composers, were later known as the Composers Inside Electronics who presented their own works in festivals such as the Festival d’Automne in Paris.

Viola’s experience with recording the sounds of nature, and the explorations of the sounds of architectural spaces, assisted in the development of the ambient sound that is so familiar now in his video works. Also, the fact that he had been a rock drummer as a student, taught him good rhythm skills which he used when editing his videotapes and installations.

Viola’s relationship to music expanded as he accepted invitations to visually interpret such different compositions as Déserts (Deserts), the last masterpiece by the father of electronic music, Edgard Varèse, developed in collaboration with the German orchestra, Ensemble Modern in 1994; three songs by the US industrial rock group Nine Inch Nails for their world tour in 2000; and Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde. Viola’s four-hour video that runs for the entire opera, was created in 2004/05 upon the invitation of Gerard Mortier for his first season after being appointed general manager of the National Opera of Paris. He invited stage director Peter Sellars, orchestra conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Bill Viola (with executive producer Kira Perov) to collaborate on a new production of this opera, whose world premiere as a fully staged production was hold in 2005 in Paris. This new production was co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic (where it had is first showing as a “project”), and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York.


Screening of bill viola


Thursday, July 6

I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like (1986) is a study into animal consciousness and human transcendence. Introduction by Lucía Agirre, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao curator and exhibition curator.

Venue: Auditorium Time: 7 pm Runtime: 89 min. Original version in English, without subtitles
Tickets: free at the admissions desk and on the website

Further Information

Shared reflections Bill Viola


Discover the exhibition devoted to Bill Viola, the behind the scenes of installation, and other curiosities about the show on these unique tours led by museum professionals.

Curatorial Vision Wednesday, September 20 Lucía Agirre, Exhibition Curator
Key Concepts Wednesday, September 27 Luz Maguregui, Education Coordinator

* Sponsored by Fundación Vizcaína Aguirre

Further Information

The passing times


Friday, Sept 29

Directed by the artist Isabel María in 2014, this documentary recounts the creative process of The Passing (1991), a work where Bill Viola examines the death of his mother, which marked a turning point in both his life and his artistic output. Presented by Isabel María, a conversation with her will also take place after the screening.

Tickets: €2 Members, €4 general public

Further Information

Experiment with the moving image


Friday, November 10 and Saturday, November 11

From Nam June Paik to Bill Viola, an experimental workshop about the moving image encouraging youngsters to manipulate and edit their videos while learning about early video artists from 60 years ago.

Venue: Education Room Time: 6:30 to 8:00 pm.
Tickets: €20 Members, €24 general public. Must reserve in advance on the website as from October 1. Minimum: 10 people per group, maximum: 20.

Further Information

Tristan und Isolde


Saturday, October 28

In 2014, Madrid’s Teatro Real held an outstanding production of Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, produced by Peter Sellars in 2005, with the participation of Bill Viola in audio and video production. Enjoy the screening of this production. Courtesy: Teatro Real. Conductor: Marc Piollet. Stage director: Peter Sellars. Video artist: Bill Viola.

Tickets: Free, Tickets available as of October 1 at the admission desk or the Museum website. Runtime: 5 hours. Original version in German, without subtitles.

Further Information


Express Tours


These express tours aim to convey the art on view in a dynamic way by focusing on specific topics. Check the times and languages for the Bill Viola exhibition at the Information Desk.

Limited capacity. Maximum: 20 people (first come, first served; no prior reservations). Free with museum admission. Length: 30 min. Meeting point: Atrium.

Further Information

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