New York Times art critic Ken Johnson, in a November 10, 2000 review, praises Bill Viola’s then newly released video production Ascension (2000): “As is typical of Mr. Viola’s work, Ascension is unabashedly soulful and powerfully sensational, a 10-minute essay on death, beauty and resurrection.” Briefly described, Ascension begins with the sight and sound of a man suddenly plunging into water, arms outstretched like a crucified Jesus. The man’s descent is filmed in slow motion, clothes billowing, light shimming down as air bubbles rise towards the waters surface. This simple description of the short video can not adequately capture the stunning beauty and visual poetry of this piece.
The nature of the art video, like that of much independent filmmaking, has placed its emphasis upon a highly focused essay on the chosen subject. The short time frame assigned to the video loop gives it a status of a “moving picture,” more a conceptual narrative, relying on a combination of images and sounds more condensed than the literature-as-film that we experience in large-scale Hollywood productions.
As Viola has stated, the work’s meaning is revealed on an unconscious level as the projected images wash over you. Ascension will be presented in a continual loop, meaning that the gallery visitor may observe the video at any point in its showing. And video art is time-based, rather than object-based. That said, it is strongly suggested the viewer watch this ten minute video from start to finish, to fully experience its impact.