BILL VIOLA – “I’m going to say what it really means, what it is to me”

In this 28 minute interview, Bill Viola, the well-known video artist, talks about his practice and life.

It’s wholly appropriate to have a artist in this medium explain himself through the same medium, video.  In fact, he found out the reason for one of his key motifs, water, through another interview, some time ago, when he told of an almost-forgotten near-drowning incident when he was 6, where he saw a wonderful world and light at the bottom of the water, felt drawn towards it – and only lived because of his uncle rescuing his body.  At which the interviewer commented that that was probably why water occurred so often in his work – which startled Bill, but made sense to him, “Of course!”

In this interview, he explains that, for him, video is like “an electronic water”, as it flows – the electrons flow in circuits.

“And of course, then the brain and your body becomes also connected with electricity.  We’re speaking now and I’m gesturing with my hands, because the electric waves that are in my body, coming from the pumping of my heart and stuff are allowing me to move them.  ‘Cos it’s all flowing…. and the synapses in our brains are firing.”

When he first saw an early video camera – brought into school just before he left for college – the light in it seemed like the light in the water which he’d seen and felt drawn towards, when he nearly drowned – “the light had come back to me”  It was profoundly moving, when the camera was switched off, he was nearly shaking.  When he got to college, he immediately searched for and signed up for a videomaking workshop.

Through observation, he noticed how droplets of rain on his glasses each were like a lens, reflecting what was going on around him – and from this, created the piece “He weeps for you” in which ‘tears’ or droplets of water are slowly released, in deep close-up.

Throughout college, he privately read writings by mystics, particularly finding himself absorbed and moved by the poetry of St John of the Cross – making a piece on this later, he hesitated to name it with religious terms (expecting this would be ridiculed by art critics), but finally decided to call it what it was: “Room for St John of the Cross”.  That marked a “turning point” in his naming his pieces exactly what they meant to him.  The response?  “Man, some of the critics just went crazy – you know, here I was, like, a contemporary artist, you know, and I’m making a piece about a Catholic saint – in the Middle Ages!”  “That was the moment I took my stand; I said I’m going to say what it really is, what it means for me.”

The dying of his mother – unexpectedly, after 3 months in a coma – was profound as he was present and he describes it as beautiful, deeply sad and mysterious.  When she had taken her last breath, he looked at the body on the bed and felt it was not his mother, but like a pile of laundry.  After that, he broke the habit of a lifetime and brought his family videos into his workspace, realising that the everyday things of being with family have to be as much part of life as making famous art.  In fact, right after his mother’s death, he took 3 months off work, despite a pressing deadline from funders – and every morning, sat replaying the footage of his mother, “like a prayer”.  She was not going to take a breath again, but in the video, he could see her and almost be with her.

Later, after his father’s death, he made a series of works on the theme of “Passions” – grieving, crying themes.

This is a good video interview, it feels leisurely, not rushed, and very personal.  We hear about his early works and which works were particularly important to him (although of course all were absorbing) – which pieces carried an importance for more than one work, but for years.

A really good starting point for finding out about Bill Viola’s life and work, from the start.

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Found in Translation

Randomly, in my bookshelves, I re-encountered “Subversive Spirituality” a book by Eugene Peterson – best known for his translation of the Bible into modern-day (American) speech: The Message translation.

While being a pastor, Eugene had spent a year on translating the Bible book of Romans into this everyday language.  Then, he felt it was time for his pastoral ministry to end – and within a month of this happening, he was contacted by a publisher and asked to translate the whole Bible similarly.  At first, he wasn’t sure that he could accomplish such a massive task – but as he began, he found something interesting – it came easily to him, he had a sense of harvest.

For a long time, as a pastor, he had been reading the original Greek and Hebrew of the Bible, then translating it into words and ideas which modern day Americans in his congregation could understand.

I love that description of a sense of harvest.  That, later in life, what we have been doing naturally in life, as part of who we are, and how we think, becomes a flowing out to others.

Question to ask ourselves: what am I translating?  What is the work of my life?

“If I were going to set up a seminary curriculum, I would spend one whole year on a couple of poets.  I would insist that students learn how to read poetry, learn how words work.  We don’t pay enough attention to words – we use words all the time, but we use them in a commercialized, consumer way.  That consumer-oriented use of words has little place in the church, in the pulpit, in counselling.  We’re trying to find how words work, their own work.” – Eugene Peterson, “Subversive Spirituality”

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5 Reasons people don’t go to church

There’s a great deal of interest and research about why people don’t go to church – this presenter at Greenbelt asked her friends to give their personal reasons, anonymously.  Here, she reads out the results.  Here are the honest thoughts of real people, worth listening to.

Offputting things included: flags, overstrong orange juice, never getting to be Mary in nativity play, church locked the doors at the back of the building during the service, they don’t believe in God or Jesus, they felt they had to believe before they went, they enjoyed the peace but felt it would be hypocritical to go as they didn’t attend Sunday service, they didn’t want to go on their own (one vicar arranges for people to meet newcomers from local train station and walk with them to church), can’t find somewhere they feel at home (she suggest shop around), they feel rejected by the church because they’re gay, when they asked questions in church growing up they got fobbed off……



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Contemporary Art in St Paul’s Cathedral

Canon Paul Oakley (who introduces many lunchtime lectures and has written on poetry as “A splash of Words”) welcomes the arrival of a new art into the very old St Paul’s Cathedral, in London: a video piece by Bill Viola and his partner/collaborator, Kira Perov.  Bill and Paul are obviously visibly moved by seeing it, in situ.

What is is about an artwork being made for a specific location, in an old building?  Tateshots interviews Nicholas Serota, as well as the makers.

This is significant: it is the leading art building/museum in the capital city of London, interacting with a leading building representing the Church of England.  The Church as patron – a role it was more connected with in the past.

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John Piper: One third of the Bible is Poetry

John Piper is well-known not only as a preacher, but also as a poet.  In this article, he points out carefully that one third of the Bible is poetry, and why that might be.

He gives two reasons:

  • it expresses the inexpressible – or at least tries to
  • it is slow communication, it forces the reader to slow down, to take in the nuances

He has written a short article, whereas a few weeks ago on this blog, we’ve heard a much longer videoed talk by Canon Oakley, on why poetry is important to the church and belief – under the title “resonance, not relevance”.

However, Christian denominations being what they are, it’s helpful to have leading figures in different branches of the same tree/vine saying the same thing.

For those writing poetry (or sermons), I’d warmly recommend listening to John Piper’s talk on George Herbert, and writing as a spiritual practice.  Viewable here.

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Fashion Design from faith

How is spirituality manifested in form? How would designers express their faith and values in their fashion creations?

“Sons ‘n’ Daughters: A Fashion Discourse” is a showcase of new works by fashion designers of the Christian faith – Barney Cheng, Lulu Cheung, Joanna Chu Liao, Noel Chu, Enoch Ho, and Hidy Ng – informed and inspired by their faith journeys.

This fashion show was included in an important response to T S Eliot’s poems “The 4 Quartets” – the event being “The Still Point” by the International Arts Movement, in Hong Kong, in 2014.

Characterised by qualities of the designers’ oeuvre, and built on their faith for God the Father, the new collections attempt to present an imagery of refreshing departure from an otherwise vanity–based industry, to stir a discourse on closing the seeming gaps between faith and fashion.



Barney Cheng, faith, fashion, Hong Kong

Barney Cheng designs

Barney Cheng – find out more on his website.  Barney trained at Royal College of Art (London), Parsons School for Fashion (Paris), and University of Waterloo (Canada) before establishing his atelier Yenrabi.  His work tends to use gorgeously embroidered fabrics, for special events such as cocktail dresses and weddings and evening gowns.


Lu Lu Cheung, fashion designer

Lu Lu Cheung, Spring/Summer 2017

Lulu Cheung has a very distinctive website – which initially just displays her name – but when you click on that, it opens as, and you hear birdsong.  As you click on the Lookbook to see the clothes, beautiful classical music begins to play.

There are pictures of flower arrangements on the website, and her opening statement is that her work is inspired by nature.

“I like my designs to conjure a carefree and buoyant feminine beauty but I also want to have down-to-earth practicality.  My design is expressing the soft-yet-strong of women.”


Noel Chu, wedding dress design, Hong Kong

Noel Chu working on one of her glorious wedding dresses

Noel Chu specialises in wedding wear.

With each unique wedding dress design, Noel captures the essence of the individual woman behind the label “bride” that often comes with high expectations. Noel’s devotion and demand for perfection go into every one of the gowns she creates, as she shares her incredible enthusiasm and creativity with each bride.

 See more on her website.




Hidy Ng makes award-winning ready to wear ranges of clothing, a favourite of International Fashion Editors.  Her website is full of runway shows at Paris, Hong Kong and .  Even her design drawings are exquisite.


You can view an industry interview with her hereScreen shot 2018-02-11 at 20.35.27.png.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEnoch Ho has his own label, Berayah – named after the Hebraic word meaning “God has created”.

His clothing is modern with a “crisp geometric aesthetic”.  If you like having pockets in your clothing, then prepare to be delighted – as these, whether hidden in seams or featured upfront, are ever-present.

Screen shot 2018-02-11 at 20.46.45


The statement on his website gives a rather beautiful description of his Autumn/Winter 2017 collection “The Grace of Grey”:

“Our morals are guided by black and white, yet in reality our flawed beings live in grey areas in between…. the world can be a beautiful place if we learn not to cause division by our definitions of black and white, but rather the common extension of grace in our respective greys.”

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Not relevance but resonance

When a clergyman writes a book which the poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy describes as “This beautiful and wise meditation centred around Mark Oakley’s anthology of the ‘soul language’ of poetry opens new windows in the shared house of both poetry and belief” – then we are looking at a very interesting bridge-book.

“The splash of words:believing in Poetry” – is the book – and its author speaks about it in this fascinating and easy to follow video talk – the talk itself is a compact 42 minutes, but there is a very extensive series of interesting questions afterwards, which pushes the running length to an hour and a half.  (Don’t be put off, just listen to the talk and you will find yourself wanting to hear more. Viewing it is time well spent).

Continue reading

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