Rachel J. Allyn-Crane
February 22, 2001
Art History 190W
The video Red Tape (Collected Works) contains five short films by Bill Viola from 1975.
The first short film is titled "Playing My Soul Music to My Freckles So They Won't Get Lonely." This piece consists of a shot of the artist's back with a bare speaker resting just above his waist, playing 'soul music' sung by a woman. The artist is shirtless, so that his freckley skin can be seen. Below the waist, the artist wears a pair of jeans with a brown leather belt. The artist's unseen legs start at the top of the frame, and his shoulders begin at the bottom of the frame. At the beginning and at the end of the piece, the viewer can see the artist's hand reaching back to set the speaker in place, and remove the speaker from his back.
Viola's second work on Red Tape is titled "A Non-Diary Creamer." The short film begins with a very tight close-up of a cup of coffee. The bird's-eye view of the cup fills the screen so that the object is almost unidentifiable. A spoon full of powdered white creamer enters the frame from the left, the creamer is poured into the coffee and stirred. As the coffee is stirred, the camera zooms out, so that the viewer can see the whole cup of coffee in the center of a natural type of setting. The coffee cup rests in a patch of light colored potting soil. To the right of the cup are two pale grey rocks and a small branch with green leaves.
A sound is heard off-screen. We never see exactly what is making the sound, but the viewer infers that the artist, who has stirred the creamer into the coffee, is doing something to produce the sound. It is a kind of scraping or rubbing. There is friction involved in the making of this sound. The sound reminding me of rubbing something with sandpaper.
The sandpaper sound ends, and the spoon-stirring hand returns to pick up the cup. The cup is taken off-screen, leaving through the top of the frame. The artist takes a drink of the coffee and sets the cup back down in the soil. This alternation of the sandpaper sound and the drinking of the coffee continues until the cup of coffee is empty. While the cup rests in the soil, the viewer can see a reflection of the artist in the dark coffee. The viewer can also hear the artist sniffling once in a while.
The third work on Red Tape is titled "The Semi-Circular Canals." This work consists of the artist sitting shirtless on a movable structure that the camera is also attached to. The artist has a clear glass of water that he drinks from intermitantly. Behind the artist is a rural setting. At first only green trees and a blue sky can be seen. Birds are chirping, dogs are barking, and a few human voices can be heard in the distance. The artist and camera begin to move a bit, displaying a larger view of the setting. The viewer can see a wooden fence, a white farm house and other farm buildings, such as a barn, which have been painted red with white trim. Throughout "The Semi-Circular Canals" the artist stares into the camera, just like the viewer staring blankly back at the screen.
After the artist and camera have been studily turning for some time, a grayscale card appears on the screen. This card has a medium grey background, and has three grayscale gradients above the words "EA LOGARITHMIC REFLECTIONS CHART" in black lettering. The film cuts back to the first view of the artist, then returns for a moment to the chart. The artist and camera begin traveling in the opposite direction from which they had been moving. The are moving more quickly than previously. The gray chart returns, with electronic beeping sounds. The artist and camera begin turning backwards very quickly. The film's sound cuts out, and then returns with an extra mechicanical squeeking noise. The artist and camera are no longer turning, but instead move up and down slowly, as though each is balanced on the end of a see-saw.
The screen blacks out, but the background sound remains. The artist's image returns. The sound cuts in and out before the whole screen goes red. A human voice is heard faintly, and the grey chart makes another visit before the view of the artist in the rural setting returns one last time, but with a very annoying, long bleep sound cutting out the background noice of the semi-natural setting.
Viola's fourth work on Red Tape is the short film "A Million Other Things." The location of this work is in the same area as the piece "The Semi-Circular Canals." The shot looks across a small body of water, a pond perhaps, to a small red building with white trim on the other side of the pond from the camera. This shot is maintained throughout "A Million Other Things." The camera was apparently filming that same location from that same perspective for an entire day. The film is a series of clips from different times of day that are roughly edited together. The camera's position shifts a bit throughout the day, and different background noises are cut-off and restarted half-way through with each new clip. No effort has been made to make any smooth audio or visual transitions.
A figure sits to the right of the red building. For most of the film, this figure does not noticably move. In the second half of the film, however, the figure stands up and walks towards the left of the screen, to the bank of the pond. The figure picks up a rock that is about twice the size of the figure's hand, and throws the rock into the center of the pond. This scene is repeated, remixed with scenes of the shot both earlier and later in the day. As the film progresses, the natural light begins to fade, until the screen is almost pitch black during certain clips. I found this very creepy since there was very little noise, and at one point the black screen was coupled with clacking sounds that reminded me of The Blair Witch Project. Not that Viola had that association to work with almost 25 years before that film was released. Eventually, the screen goes black entirely, and the film is over.