Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bill Viola - Artist Biography


Bill Viola (b.1951) is internationally recognized as one of today’s leading artists. He has been instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art, and in so doing has helped to greatly expand its scope in terms of technology, content, and historical reach. For 40 years he has created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast. Viola’s video installations—total environments that envelop the viewer in image and sound—employ state-of-the-art technologies and are distinguished by their precision and direct simplicity. They are shown in museums and galleries worldwide and are found in many distinguished collections. His single channel videotapes have been widely broadcast and presented cinematically, while his writings have been extensively published, and translated for international readers. Viola uses video to explore the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge. His works focus on universal human experiences—birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness—and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism. Using the inner language of subjective thoughts and collective memories, his videos communicate to a wide audience, allowing viewers to experience the work directly, and in their own personal way.

Bill Viola received his BFA in Experimental Studios from Syracuse University in 1973 where he studied visual art with Jack Nelson and electronic music with Franklin Morris. During the 1970s he lived for 18 months in Florence, Italy, as technical director of production for Art/Tapes/22, one of the first video art studios in Europe, and then traveled widely to study and record traditional performing arts in the Solomon Islands, Java, Bali, and Japan. Viola was invited to be artist-in-residence at the WNET Channel 13 Television Laboratory in New York from 1976-1980 where he created a series of works, many of which were premiered on television. In 1977 Viola was invited to show his videotapes at La Trobe University (Melbourne, Australia) by cultural arts director Kira Perov who, a year later, joined him in New York where they married and began a lifelong collaboration working and traveling together.

In 1979 Viola and Perov traveled to the Sahara desert, Tunisia to record mirages. The following year Viola was awarded a U.S./Japan Creative Artist Fellowship and they lived in Japan for a year and a half where they studied Zen Buddhism with Master Daien Tanaka, and Viola became the first artist-in-residence at Sony Corporation’s Atsugi research laboratories. Viola and Perov returned to the U. S. at the end of 1981 and settled in Long Beach, California, initiating projects to create art works based on medical imaging technologies of the human body at a local hospital, animal consciousness at the San Diego Zoo, and fire walking rituals among the Hindu communities in Fiji. In 1987 they traveled for five months throughout the American Southwest photographing Native American rock art sites, and recording nocturnal desert landscapes with a series of specialized video cameras. More recently, at the end of 2005, they journeyed with their two sons to Dharamsala, India to record a prayer blessing with the Dalai Lama.

Music has always been an important part of Viola’s life and work. From 1973-1980 he performed with avant-garde composer David Tudor as a member of his Rainforest ensemble, later called Composers Inside Electronics. Viola has also created videos to accompany music compositions including 20th century composer Edgard Varèse’ Déserts in 1994 with the Ensemble Modern, and, in 2000, a three-song video suite for the rock group Nine Inch Nails’ world tour. In 2004 Viola began collaborating with director Peter Sellars and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen to create a new production of Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde, which was presented in project form by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in December 2004, and later at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York (2007). The complete opera received its world premiere at the Opéra National de Paris, Bastille in April 2005.

Since the early 1970s Viola’s video art works have been seen all over the world. Exhibitions include Bill Viola: Installations and Videotapes, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987; Bill Viola: Unseen Images, seven installations toured six venues in Europe, 1992-1994, organized by the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and Kira Perov. Viola represented the U.S. at the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995 with Buried Secrets, a series of five new installation works. In 1997 the Whitney Museum of American Art organized Bill Viola: A 25-Year Survey that included over 35 installations and videotapes and traveled for two years to six museums in the United States and Europe. In 2002 Viola completed his most ambitious project, Going Forth By Day, a five part projected digital “fresco” cycle, his first work in High-Definition video, commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and the Guggenheim Museum, New York. Bill Viola: The Passions, a new series inspired by late medieval and early Renaissance art, was exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles in 2003 then traveled to the National Gallery, London, the Fondación “La Caixa” in Madrid and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. One of the largest exhibitions of Viola’s installations to date, Bill Viola: Hatsu-Yume (First Dream) (2006-2007), drew over 340,000 visitors to the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. In 2007 nine installations were shown at the Zahenta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw; and Ocean Without a shore was created for the 15th century Church of San Gallo during the Venice Biennale. In 2008 Bill Viola: Visioni interiori, a survey exhibition organized by Kira Perov, was presented in Rome at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. In 2014, twenty works were shown at the Grand Palais, Paris, in his largest survey exhibition to date, and a few months later, part one of the St. Paul’s commission was installed in the London cathedral, Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water).

Viola has received numerous awards for his achievements, including the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1989), XXI Catalonia International Prize (2009), and the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association (2011).

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Andre Breton - Philosopher, Artist, Publisher, Author, Editor, Journalist, Poet, Literary Critic

French writer and poet André Breton is best known as one of the founders of the Surrealist movement in literature and art.

“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality.” —André Breton


 André Breton was born on February 18, 1896, in Tinchebray, France. After a brief medical career and military service in World War I, he settled in Paris and joined the city's artistic avant-garde. In the early 1920s he became one of the founders of the Surrealist movement. He wrote a Surrealist manifesto encouraging free expression and the release of the subconscious mind, followed by the novel Nadja and volumes of essays and poetry. He died in Paris in 1966.

Early Career and Influences

André Breton was born into a working-class family on February 18, 1896, in Tinchebray, a small town in Normandy, France. As a young man, he attended medical school, taking a particular interest in the study of mental illness. When his education was interrupted by his service in World War I, he worked in the psychiatric wards of military hospitals. He also read the writings of famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, whom he would meet in 1921.

Breton was also interested in the work of Symbolist poets like Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, and in the political theory of Karl Marx. He soon came into contact with other aspiring writers who shared his interests, including Guillaume Apollinaire. In 1916, Breton joined the group of artists associated with the subversive Dada movement in Paris, including Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray.

The Surrealist Movement

By the early 1920s, however, Breton had shifted his allegiance to another group of intellectuals who would become known as the Surrealists. In 1924, he published Le Manifeste du Surréalisme (The Manifesto of Surrealism), a document announcing the new movement's embrace of all forms of liberated expression and its rejection of social and moral conventions. The Surrealists were fascinated by the fine line between reason and irrationality, especially as manifested in dreams, erotica and mental disorders. They encouraged writers and artists to adopt spontaneous means of expression such as free association and a stream-of-conscious method called "automatism."

Breton was one of the co-founders of Littérature, an influential journal that featured the first written example of automatism, titled Les Champs magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields). He also promoted visual artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Max Ernst by reproducing their work in the journal La Révolution Surréaliste (The Surrealist Revolution).

In the 1920s and '30s, Breton composed two more Surrealist manifestos and other texts about Surrealism, including Les Vases Communicants (The Communicating Vessels) and Qu'est-ce le que le Surréalisme? (What is Surrealism?). He also wrote poetry and fiction. His most famous novel, Nadja (1928), is a fantastical love story between the narrator and a mysterious, possibly insane, woman. L'Amour Fou (Mad Love), published in 1937, is a poetic meditation on obsessive love.

Breton's commitment to Marxism led him to join the French Communist Party in 1927. Although he left the party in 1935, he remained dedicated to Marxist philosophy. In 1938, he traveled to Mexico, where he and revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky collaborated on "Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art," which examines art's connection to social upheaval.

Travels and Later Work

Breton emigrated from France in 1941 in order to escape World War II. He lived in New York City for several years, and in 1942, he organized a groundbreaking exhibition of Surrealist art at Yale University. After his return to Paris in 1946, Breton published more poetry collections and essays on Surrealism.

Breton married three times, to Simone Kahn, Jacqueline Lamba (with whom he had a daughter named Aube) and Elisa Claro. In his later years, he divided his time between a country house in southwest France and an apartment in Paris. He died in Paris on September 28, 1966.

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Surrealism - Examples and Definitions

Definition of Surrealism

The term surrealism indicates a specific thought and movement in literature, the arts, and theatre, which tries to integrate the confused realms of imagination and reality. The proponents of surrealism endeavor to mix up the differences of conscious and unconscious thought through writing and painting by using irrational juxtaposition of images.

 Initiated by André Breton (1896-1966), surrealism is a kind of artistic movement started in the French capital, Paris, during the 1920s. This movement lasted until the 1940s. Breton, a famous writer as well as a philosopher, boosted this movement further by publishing his manifesto, “The Manifesto of Surrealism.”

 Although it gave new dimensions to art, it was not a political manifesto. The manifesto states that, horrified by the destruction caused by the world wars and subsequent confusion, art and literature faced numerous political challenges in resolving those confusions, the reaction of which emerged in the shape of surrealism. This movement rather aimed at preventing bloody revolutions by breaking the limitations placed on arts and literature by the politics of that time.

 Examples of Surrealism in Literature

Example #1: Freedom Of Love (By Andre Breton) “My wife with the hair of a wood fire With the thoughts of heat lightning With the waist of an hourglass With the waist of an otter in the teeth of a tiger My wife with the lips of a cockade and of a bunch of stars of the last magnitude With the teeth of tracks of white mice on the white earth With the tongue of rubbed amber and glass My wife with the tongue of a stabbed host.” (Lines 1-8) This is one of the best examples of surrealist poetry by Andre Breton. These lines have been taken from his poem “Freedom of Love.” See the irrationality in images about his wife and a wood fire, an hourglass, and teeth of a tiger. None of these images have any relation. They have been just irrationally put together to demonstrate the mind of the poet, and a situation of the reality in which he is living.

 Example #2: Dark Poet (by Antonin Artaud) “Dark Poet, a maid’s breast Haunts you, Embittered poet, life seethes And life burns, And the sky reabsorbs itself in rain, Your pen scratches at the heart of life.” (Lines 1-6) These lines have been taken from poem “Dark Poet” by Antonin Artaud. This poem juxtaposes the poet with the breasts that is quite irrational and hence surreal.

 Example #3: A Season in Hell (by Arthur Rimbaud) “A while back, if I remember right, my life was one long party where all hearts were open wide, where all wines kept flowing. One night, I sat Beauty down on my lap.—And I found her galling.—And I roughed her up. I armed myself against justice. I ran away. O witches, O misery, O hatred, my treasure’s been turned over to you! (Lines 1-5) Just check the images presented in the first few lines of this poem by Arthur Rimbaud. These are contradictory and irrational images. That is why “A Season in Hell” is one of the best surreal poems. 

Example #4: Hidden Faces (by Salvador Dali, translated by Chevalier) “Then an unheard-of being, unheard-of beings, will be seen to rise, their brains compressed by sonorous helmets, their temples pierced by the whistling of air waves, their bodies naked, turned yellow by fever, pocked by deep vegetal stigmata swarming with insects and filled to the brim with the slimy juices of venom, overflowing and running down a skin tiger-striped and leopard-spotted by the gangrene of wounds and the leprosy of camouflage, their swollen bellies plugged to death by electric umbilical chords [sic] tangling with the ignominiousness of torn intestines and bits of flesh, roasting in the burning steel carapaces of the punitive tortures of gutted tanks.

 That is man! Backs of lead, sexual organs of fire, fears of mica, chemical hearts of the televisions of blood, hidden faces and wings — always wings, the north and south of our being!”

 This excerpt has been taken from “Hidden Faces,” a novel by Salvador Dali. it uses irrational images to describe a person.

 Function of Surrealism
Life became topsy-turvy after two world wars. Literature and art faced the dilemma of presenting this topsy-turvy state of mind in words or colors. The artists and writers of that time tried to resolve this situation by presenting strange and shocking images in their writings and paintings. This technique of presenting images helps the readers and the audiences connect with the confused state of mind of that time, and of the people living after the two world wars. Surrealism is a representation of this confusion. It makes people aware of bizarre reality around them. They connect themselves with this reality and become familiar with it.
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Surrealist Writing Techniques

The dream narratives, the exquisite corpses and writing under hypnosis are all the others techniques used by the Surrealists to combine happenstance and unconsciousness into writing.


 Practiced by most surrealist writers, automatic writing is about leaving free field in the brain, writing every spontaneous thought down on paper before logic takes over and rephrases it. The more passive the writer is, the more automatic the writing will be – that’s at least what Breton, who experimented with this process in 1913, affirms, almost a decade before the beginnings of Surrealism. His text Magnetic Fields, published in 1920, was also almost completely written according to the process of automatic writing. Closely linked to the interest André Breton has on psychoanalysis and Freud's theories, automatic writing must make the subconscious speak, and even the unconscious, before the Id, ego, and super ego, psychic portion of each man subject to pressures and social restrictions, take over it. The resulting writing, sometimes transcendent, does not remain at least without an absurd side, which defies logic. In this sense, it approaches the 'Pataphysics of Alfred Jarry, science theorizing reconstruction of reality in the absurd. Jarry, held in high esteem by the Surrealists, and especially by André Breton - who said the playwright was a real surrealist, because of his absinthe consumption but also because of his vision of the world – it’s not so far from the surrealists in his deliberately absurd writing, which claims, for instance: "God is the shortest path from zero to infinity, in one way or another."


As automatic writing, the dream narratives, under hypnosis, or even under the influence (of drugs, alcohol) are intended to eliminate the possible control of the flow of writing. The writer finds themselves completely unrestricted in their possibilities. Several surrealist authors, again intrigued by the psychoanalytic theories of the time, were interested in the relationship between dream narratives and the "common thread" connecting them to reality.


The only rule of this playful writing technique, widely adopted today as a game, in all contexts, is to follow the grammatical form: noun, adjective, verb, and direct object, adjective.. On a folded sheet, where participants cannot see the word written by the previous player, they must write a word of their choice that respects the order shown above. Wacky phrases are obtained, such as that which gave the game its name ("The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine") or even "White bread will shake the oblong breast laughing." This exquisite corpse is also one of the first obtained: in the first meeting of the Surrealists where the game is played, André Breton, Jacques Herold, Victor Brauner, Yves Tanguy, Peret and Elsie Houston are present. Behind this "objective chance" seemingly harmless, obviously hides a pleasing deeper reflection: opposite to automatic writing, where the writer plays alone with their unconscious, and therefore closer to psychoanalysis, the exquisite corpse allows both real intrusion of chance in writing as well as the discovery, purely poetic, of new combinations of unthought words.


The automatism, the role of chance and the unconscious are not exclusive features of the surrealist literature: they are also found in all other types of art that affect this movement. Automatic writing finds its equivalent in the automatic drawing, practiced for example by André Masson, French painter of the years 1920-1950. The exquisite corpse, too, is as well practiced with words as with body parts! Max Ernst's collages or the photosensitive works of Man Ray also recall the patched appearance of the exquisite corpse.
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A Brief Guide to Surrealism

Surrealism emerged as the direct result of the publication of André Breton’s first Le Manifeste du Surréalisme (Manifesto of Surrealism) (1924). In this manifesto, Breton presented two definitions of surrealism: SURREALISM, noun, masc., Pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or in writing, the true function of thought. Thought dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason, and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations. ENCYCL. Philos. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of association heretofore neglected, in the omnipotence of the dream, and in the disinterested play of thought. It leads to the permanent destruction of all other psychic mechanisms and to its substitution for them in the solution of the principal problems of life. The first definition speaks to the surrealist methodology—the use of techniques, such as automatic writing, self-induced hallucinations, and word games like the exquisite corpse to make manifest repressed mental activities. The second definition lays out the surrealist view of reality and expresses the surrealist’s desire to open the vistas of the arts through the close observation of the dream state and the free play of thought. The roots of surrealism can be traced back to Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, and Isidore Ducasse, also known as Comte de Lautréamont. Surrealists also found inspiration in the poetic methods, such as calligrammatic poetry, used by Stéphane Mallarmé and Guillaume Apollinaire. The first text that took up the banner of surrealism and used automatic writing as its methodology was Les Champs magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields), penned collaboratively by Breton and Philippe Soupault. The surrealist coalition that formed around Breton included such young French poets as Louis Aragon, Antonin Artaud, René Crevel, Robert Desnos, Paul Éluard, Michel Leiris, Benjamin Péret, and eventually the Dadaist Tristan Tzara. The group’s membership fluctuated due to changes in ideology and personality clashes. During this time several journals served as a space for the expression of the growing surrealist ideals, journals such as Révolution surréaliste (1924-29), Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution (1930-33), and Minotaure (1933-39). A second generation of surrealists included René Char, Aimé Césaire, and David Gascogne. The final stage of surrealism began after the end of World War II. By this point surrealism had disseminated around the world in various diluted forms. The far-flung practitioners were held together by their use of personal juxtapositions, placing distant realities together, so that the interconnections between them were only apparent to the creator.
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Surrealist Writers

Surrealism is a movement in literature and art whose effective life is generally assigned the years 1924-1945 by historians. In 1924, André Breton's first Manifesto of Surrealism appeared, defining the movement in philosophical and psychological terms. Its immediate predecessor was Dada, whose nihilistic reaction to rationalism and the reigning "morality" that produced World War I cleared the way for Surrealism's positive message. (Other precursors and influences are listed below.) Surrealism is often characterized only by its use of unusual, sometimes startling juxtapositions, by which it sought to trancend logic and habitual thinking to reveal deeper levels of meaning and unconscious associations. Thus it was instrumental in promoting Freudian and Jungian conceptions of the unconscious mind. Throughout the 1920s and '30s, the movement flourished and spread from its center in Paris to other countries. Breton controlled the group rather autocratically, annointing new members and expelling those with whom he disagreed, in an effort to maintain focus on what he conceived as the essential principals or the fundamental insight which Surrealism manifested (a conception which changed, to some extent, during his life). In the early '30s the group published a periodical entitled Surrealism at the Service of the Revolution (Le Surrealisme au service de la revolution, 1930-33). Communism appealed to many intellectuals at this time and the movement flirted briefly with Moscow; but the Soviets demanded full allegiance and the subordination of art to the purposes of "the State." The surrealists sought absolute freedom and their aim was a profound psychological or spiritual revolution, not an attempt to change society on a merely political or economic level. (The full history of surrealist political involvement is quite complex and led to dissent and the formation of various factions within the movement.) With the advent of World War II, many of the Parisian participants sought safety in New York, leaving Paris to the Existentialists. By the war's end in 1945, Abstract Expressionism had superseded Surrealism as the western world's most important active art movement. "Ab Ex" grew out of both the tradition of Abstraction (exemplified by Kandinsky) and the "automatic" branch of Surrealism (exemplified by Joan Miro and André Masson) with Roberto Matta and Arshile Gorky as key pivotal figures. But Surrealism did not die in 1945. Though the attention of the fickle art world may have shifted away, Breton continued to expound his vision until his death in 1966, and many others have continued to produce works in the surrealist spirit to the present day. The ongoing impact of Surrealism cannot be underestimated and must be granted a distinct place in the history of literature, art and philosophy.
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Capturing Ideas: The Surreal Photography of Erik Johansson

Swedish and Berlin-based mixed media photographer Erik Johansson has created astounding work that is perhaps only surpassed by his remarkable process. We featured an image of his earlier on. At first glance, his surreal images – essentially landscape photographs transformed into something more magical – rouse wonder in people, and upon closer inspection, they are dressed to impress, with every minor detail considered and perfected. It’s his process, however, that really had us at hello. While many Photoshop artists use stock images to create their art, Erik is going out of his way to make his photographs more realistic and entirely his own. He meticulously draws, paints, creates miniature sets and cardboard cutouts, and shoots different spots and locations himself, all the while paying great attention to every single detail, before blending all these aspects together in a single photograph. Erik tells the Phoblographer: “To me photography is a way to collect material to realize the ideas in my mind. I get inspired by things around me in my daily life and all kinds of things I see. Although one photo can consist hundreds of layers I always want it to look like it could have been captured. Every new project is a new challenge and my goal is to realize it as realistic as possible.” Erik’s dedication to the craft is something we don’t see every day, which makes his work all the more inspiring. And with his painstaking creations, he actualizes images in his mind and molds them into something real for others. As he points out, “I don’t capture moments, I capture ideas.” See Erik Johansson’s breathtaking work and his behind-the-scenes videos after the jump. To see more of Erik’s work, visit his website.
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