Bill Viola

(Queens, New York City, New York, 1951 - )

I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like


Laserdisc format video

Collection of the Akron Art Museum

Museum Acquisition Fund

1990.20 a,b

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"I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like" is a personal investigation of the inner states and connections to animal consciousness we all carry within. The work is in five parts, and it functions like a map rather than a description of the animal psyche. Images of animals mediate a progression from an initial stage of nondifferentiation or "pure being" (a herd of bison moves within a vast open landscape, the camera confronts the glaring eye of an owl), proceeding through stages of the rational and the physical orders (a researcher is at work in his study, a dense montage of images flickers past at the limits of perception), finally arriving at a state beyond logic and the laws of physics (devotees in trance participate in a Hindu firewalking ritual, a fish is seen to fly out of a mountain lake, soaring over the tree tops to come to rest on the floor of a pine forest). As the gateway to the soul, the pupil of the eye has long been a powerful symbolic image and evocative physical object in the search for knowledge of the self. The color of the pupil is black. It is on this black that you see your self-image when you try to look closely into your own eye, or into the eye of another—the largeness of your own image preventing you from having an unobstructed view within. It is the black we "see" when all the lights have been turned off, the space between the glowing electron lines of the video image, the space after the last cut of a film, or the luminous black of the nights of the new moon. It is through this black that we confront the gaze of an animal, partly with fear, with curiosity, with familiarity, with mystery. We see ourselves in its eyes while sensing the irreconcilable otherness of an intelligence ordered around a world we can share in body but not in mind.

Media Art