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Artist: Bill Viola (American, born 1951)

Date: 2007
Medium: Black and white high-definition video on plasma display mounted on wall.
Overall: 61 3/8 x 36 5/8 x 5in. (155.9 x 93 x 12.7cm)
Credit Line: 75th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased in part, with gifts from Easton Pribble and William C. and Catherine Palmer Funds.
Object number: 2011.15
Label Text
Bill Viola uses contemporary technology as an art medium but his subject matter is age-old: he examines humankind at important transitional stages—birth or death, or at the threshold of spiritual transcendence—in other words, standing between spiritual and material realms.

To be transfigured, a person undergoes a profound transformation within himself, even though his outward appearance may remain unchanged. In Viola’s Transfiguration, a ghostly presence emerges from a distance and walks through a veil of water in a kind of birth or baptism. The figure, who is the artist’s son, Blake Viola, looks at us, turns away, looks once more, then returns to the obscurity from which he came. What are we to make of this?

Viola was raised Protestant Christian, studied Zen Buddhism and also incorporates Sufi mysticism into his work. He seeks a balance between what he calls “the three great reservoirs of humanity—the Unborn, the Living, and the Dead.” The figure in Transfiguration could represent many different things to us, depending on our personal histories: a lost loved one; an angel or spirit; a memory of one’s youth; an ancestor; or a child from the future.

© Bill Viola