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The Crossing

About the piece: Bill Viola’s The Crossing is a room-sized installation, featuring two unique video sequences shown simultaneously. Both videos begin the same way: a man walks slowly and dramatically towards the camera. After a couple moments, the figures stops and stoically stares at the camera lens. At this point, the two scenes take separate paths. In one video, a slow and steady fire is lit at the man's feet. Eventually, the fire grows and swallows his entire body. After the fire has disappeared, the man has vanished from the scene. In the other video, the same event occurs but with water. It begins with a light rainfall and eventually submerges the figure. Once the water is gone, the man has disappeared.

The Crossing. Bill Viola. 1996 CE. Video/sound installation.

About Bill Viola: My initial response to The Crossing was confusion. I questioned if there was a deeper meaning behind the contrast of the fire and water and if those elements served as a metaphor. In art, everything is purposeful.

When Viola was six years old, he had a near-death experience. On a family vacation, he fell out of a boat and almost drowned. Most people, including myself, would be traumatized. Surprisingly, Viola had the opposite reaction and described it as one of the most beautiful moments in his entire life. In fact, that very moment is what sparked his fascination with water. Viola incorporates water in many of his works and views it as a metaphor. He uses water to stimulate a meditative response, just like what he experienced when he almost drowned.


Everything about this installation is meant to evoke a response from the viewer. Personally, I thought the video was relaxing, calming, but at the same time, a little frightening. Every viewer has a different response, but the use of slow movement is meant to create an aurora of meditation and introspection. It forces the viewer to focus for a long period of time and to reflect on details that would not have been significant upon first glance. The camera used to film can register up to 300 frames per second, which allows for precise details to be shown. It is also important to note the contrast between the fire and water and how Viola purposefully uses opposing elements.


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