Anagnorisis Picks | Bill Viola’s Existential Video Game

I remember being completely floored by the power of Bill Viola‘s work when I saw Bill Viola: A 25-Year Survey at the Whitney Museum of Art back in 1997. I’d not before seen video art used in this sophisticated, meditative way.   The beauty of his work kept me enthralled while his concepts filled my brain.  His use of color, composition and lighting as well as strong use of symbol is classical; they are age-old tools applied to a medium unknown before this century in a way other video artists rarely employ, or don’t make use of as well (perhaps my knowledge of video art is too narrow).

Two Women | 2008 | Color High-Definition video on plasma display mounted on wall | Performers: Pamela Blackwell and Weba Garretson | Photo: Kira Perov

My new-found love brought me back to the Whitney’s theater to watch one of his longer films being shown in the museum’s screening room. Chott el-Djerid (A Portrait in Light and Heat), 1979, left me feeling uneasy. Unrelenting visions of desert heat with unrecognizable figures or objects in the distance never coming into focus, left me frustrated and tense. I didn’t last for the entire showing, but was moved nonetheless by how different this work had been from the others I’d seen in the Whitney’s main gallery.  All the work had burned itself into my memory.

Still from, “Chott el-Djerid (A Portrait in Light and Heat)” (1979)

Mr. Viola is about to step into yet another new art medium: The video game.  Artinfo’s blog In The Air reports that he has apparently been working on The Night Journey since 2005, and hopes to finish it later this year.  New Yorkers will get a chance to play the work in its current state when it comes to the Museum of the Moving Image as part of its Real Virtuality show, opening on January 15th.

Below is a trailer for The Night Journey, being developed by Game Innovation Lab (their website is under construction at the time of this writing).  More information quoted directly from the project’s website below the embedded video.

The Night Journey is a video game/art project based on the universal story of an individual mystic’s journey toward enlightenment.

Visual inspiration for The Night Journey is drawn from the prior works of Bill Viola. Narrative inspiration comes from the lives and writings of great historical figures including: Rumi, the 13th century Islamic poet and mystic; Ryokan, the 18th century Zen Buddhist poet; St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic and poet; and Plotinus, the 3rd century philosopher. The interactive design attempts to evoke in the player’s mind a sense of the archetypal journey of enlightenment through the “mechanics” of the game experience – i.e. the choices and actions of the player during the game.

The player’s voyage through The Night Journey takes them through a poetic landscape, a space that has more reflective and spiritual qualities than geographical ones. The core mechanic in the game is the act of traveling and reflecting rather than reaching certain destinations – the trip along a path of enlightenment.

The game is being developed with video game technologies, but attempts to stretch the boundaries of what game experiences may communicate with its unique visual design, content and mechanics. The team has created a set of custom post-processing techniques for the 3D environment that evoke the sense of “explorable video,” integrating the imagery of Bill Viola‘s prior work into the game world at both a technical and creative level.

2 Comments

  1. Did you hear about this case here: http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/European-definition-of-art-is-absurd/22178

    It’s so ridiculous.

    • No I hadn’t! Oh, what a glorious waste of time! If a large group of highly respected, intelligent people consider something a piece of art, then it shouldn’t be contested. Makes me want to watch Brazil again. It has got me thinking, though: would the owner of a Viola video installation use it to watch “Gone with the Wind”?

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