Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Taking its title and cue from the Japanese belief that the first dream of a new year is premonitory, Bill Viola’s masterwork Hatsu-Yume shows the passing of a day over the course of an hour. Playing with video speed, dubbing and lighting, Viola choreographs what must have been a considerable library of footage into a wordless statement about life, inviting the viewer to absorb the tranquil beauty of time passing by. Opening with a dark shot of the tide, the film travels across Japan, taking in sights of land, water, sky and urban space. Details leap out where they wouldn’t have before - the filthy corner of a polystyrene crate, the subdermal iridescence of an octopus, raindrops on a windshield. No overwhelming link is made between sequences, save for the progression of light and the theme of mortality.

Created while Viola was artist-in-residence at Sony in Japan, Hatsu-Yume is, in its own way, thrilling. The static soundtrack, resembling the sound of a distant sea, sustains a dream-like sensation through the film, and allows the boundaries between sight and sound to disappear. When a coin being fed into a vending machine doesn’t clink, it feels as if this action is happening in a world beyond our control. Viola’s exploration of Japan and careful editing display a strong understanding of mono no aware, the Japanese philosophy of the transience of being. Though it should be watched as a projection, this meditative film is inviting enough that it could essentially be watched anywhere.

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