Bill Viola
Passage, 1987

Passage is an expression of Bill Viola’s fascination with video; he considers the medium an intimate art form through which a private vision can become part of the public record. The title of the work pronounces his three-fold ambition: the passage into art of visual information and narrative relationships; the embrace of social rituals marking the passage of time as subject matter for art; and the message that constructions of memory and vision originate from primary experience.

In the installation, a long, narrow corridor leads to a small inner room where a large projection fills an entire wall. A videotape of a child’s birthday party is being played in extreme slow motion, taking nearly seven hours to unfold. The architecture of the room places the viewer uncomfortably close to the image; the deep rumbling sound of children’s voices fills the narrow space.

The speed of the video amplifies the slight, jarring movements of the handheld camerawork: every gesture overwhelms, small details ascend to symbolic proportion, and color is explosive. Viola uses this effect to ritualize the passage of time and to articulate the tensions between youth and old age, life and death.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Artist name
Bill Viola
Date created
video installation
single-channel video installation, color, with stereo sound
144 in. × 720 in. × 192 in. (365.76 cm × 1828.8 cm × 487.68 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Fisher, Susan and Robert Green, Pam and Dick Kramlich, and Mr. and Mrs. Brooks Walker, Jr.
© Bill Viola
Permanent URL
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

Other Works by Bill Viola

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