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Bill Viola: The Raft

The Raft is a profound, emotionally riveting video installation.

The artist, Bill Viola, says that it is a “metaphor for today’s world.” A group of strangers experience unexpected disaster. Will they survive? Will they help each other? Will they be transformed?

In the video, urban dwellers from all walks of life—young, old, black, white, Hispanic and Asian—gather as if waiting for a train or bus to arrive. An older woman searches inside her handbag. People read, look bored or are simply absorbed in their thoughts. As is characteristic in urban environments, each individual maintains a psychological distance, though all are in close physical proximity. A reserved nod of the head serves as sufficient greeting, if a greeting occurs at all.

Then suddenly, torrents of water hit the group of people from both sides. Men on the periphery attempt to resist the deluge, people struggle and succumb to the explosive force of the water, falling to the ground as the flood rages on. Eventually, the water subsides, and people begin to regain composure. Several individuals reach for the elderly woman, gently trying to revive her.

From beginning to end, a range of human emotion is expressed—boredom, disinterest, curiosity, disapproval, shock, fear, suffering, recovery, compassion and even love.

The drama is recorded with high-speed film and the narrative unfolds in extreme slow motion. The dream-like effects are startling. We discern facial expressions and bodily gestures and apprehend subtleties of emotion that would go unnoticed in real time.

The Raft by Bill Viloa
Bill Viola, The Raft, 2004. Color High-Definition video projection on wall (396.2 x 223 cm) in darkened space; 5.1 ch surround sound. Performers: Sheryl Arenson, Robin Bonaccorsi, Rocky Capella, Cathy Chang, Liisa Cohen, Tad Coughenour, James Ford, Michael Irby, Simon Karimian, John Kim, Tanya Little, Mike Martinez, Petro Martirosian, Jeff Mosley, Gladys Peters, Maria Victoria, Kaye Wade, Kim Weild, Ellis Williams. 10:33 minutes. Photo: Kira Perov.