A pioneer of video and installation art, Bill Viola is an artist whose subject matter is the profound question of our being and one that considers human life and its relation to the universe, to the soul and human spirit, and to nature and death. Ocean Without a Shore (2007), a recent addition to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts's (PAFA) collection, is a major video installation and a profound experiential work that combines a reverence for the traditions of figuration and realism in Western art with new and cutting edge technology.
Entering Ocean Without a Shore, the viewer stands in a darkened room before three large video monitors. In turns that last an average of three to four minutes on each of the three screens, two dozen people emerge from behind an invisible wall of rushing water. Describing Ocean Without a Shore as “a series of encounters at the intersection between life and death,” Bill Viola says, “the video sequence documents a succession of individuals slowly approaching out of the darkness and moving into the light in order to pass into the physical world. Once incarnated, however, all beings realize that their presence is finite and so they must eventually turn away from material existence to return from where they came. The cycle repeats without end.”
Originally commissioned for the 2007 Venice Biennale, Ocean Without a Shore was first shown in the fifteenth-century Church of the Oratorio San Gallo, a short distance from the Piazza San Marco. Inspired by the writings of Senegalese poet Birago Diop, it takes its title from Andalusian Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi, who wrote, “The Self is an ocean without a shore. Gazing upon it has no beginning or end, in this world and the next.”