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“Presence and Absence: Vision and the Invisible in the Media Age”

2007 Tanner Lecture on Human Values with Bill Viola
March 7, 2007

Bill ViolaThe presence of the unseen and the unknown has dominated the lives of human beings for as long as we have existed on this earth. Science and technology have constantly striven to extend human perception beyond the limits of vision, now crossing the threshold into super-sensory realms. In the current age of electronically transmitted, mass produced images, it is hard for most people to recognize that the forces that most affect our lives as individuals-politically, socially, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually-are invisible and intangible, the most dominant among them being the presence of the dead. As the Nigerian writer Ben Okri has said, “The world is full of riddles that only the dead can answer.”

In this lecture, Bill Viola will discuss the profound effect that absence has had on our present-tense experience of the world and ultimately our humanity, and how the new technologies of electronic image are well suited to illuminate the invisible world that surrounds us. Viola will be presenting selections from his video art works during the course of the lecture. 

A pioneer in the medium of video art, Bill Viola is internationally recognized as one of today’s leading artists. Viola uses video to explore the phenomena of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge. His works focus on universal human experiences-birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness-and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism.

Click here to view the video.

Last Updated: 7/26/21