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Bill Viola | U.S.A.

The Passing, 1991

In Memory of Wynne Lee Viola
Videotape, B/W, Mono Sound
54 minutes

Courtesy of the Artist,
with thanks to Electronic Arts Intermix, New York
Photos: Kira Perov

"The Passing is a personal response to the spiritual extremes of a birth and death in the family. Black-and-white nocturnal imagery and underwater scenes depict a twilight world hovering on the borders of human perception and consciousness, where the multiple lives of the mind – memory, reality and vision – merge", says Bill Viola.

The Passing hauntingly travels the terrains of the conscious, the subconscious, and the desert landscapes of the Southwest, melding sleep, dreams and the drama of waking life into a stunning masterpiece.

Viola, placed at the center of this personal exploration of altered time and space, represents his mortality in such forms as a glistening newborn baby, his deceased mother, and the artist himself, combining all of them together in a black and white story, of an encounter between reality and a surrealist world.

"Sublime" dreams, our "greatest", "most significant" dreams emanate, according to Jung, from the deepest level of our collective sub-conscious. In an attempt to explain what he meant in this term, now so familiar and commonly used by everyone, Jung wrote in his essay "Modern Man in Search of a Soul" that if we could personify the sub-conscious, perhaps we would call it the collective human being, who combines the characteristics of both sexes, who goes beyond youth and age, birth and death, who carries the cumulative human experience of one or two million years, and is therefore considered almost immortal.

If such a creature were to exist, it would no doubt ignore temporary changes; the present would be no more significant to it than any given year in the 1st century B.C., his dreams would be ancient and his extensive experience would grant him an unprecedented gift of foresight. Such a creature would experience endless periods of lives – of the individual, the family, the tribe and the people, and its inner sense of life would be the rhythm of growth, blossoming and destruction.

Unfortunately – or should we say, fortunately – all these are but a dream. At the very least, it seems to us that the collective sub-conscious, that which is revealed to us in our dreams, is totally unaware of its own contents… Furthermore, the collective sub-conscious doesn't seem as a human being, but rather as an endless stream or an ocean of images and figures swept into the conscious element of our dreams or the anomalies of the brain.