Beyond Belief
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Master of Time: Viewing time as a sacred gift, controllable in art and technology but not in life.
Bill Viola
Bill Viola
The Reflecting Pool, 1977-79. Single-channel video with mono sound, 7 min. Dimensions variable. Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase. Photo: Kira Perov.
Stopping Time
Film and video, unique among the arts, can both stop and manipulate the passage of time. Bill Viola, a deeply spiritual video artist, explained about The Reflecting Pool that the key element is “the frozen action. There is a transformation that’s all based on the original decision to give up; I think it relates to death in some way, or letting go of the things that you know.”
Viola has said, “All creative acts are an attempt at immortality.” Do you believe this?

See how others have answered.

Yes, because our influence on others keeps some part of us alive.
Yes, but the attempt will always fail.
No, because a true creative act isn’t concerned with the future, only the present.
I don’t think in these terms.
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Daniel Reeves
Daniel Reeves
Sabda, 1984. Single-channel video with sound, 14:53 min. Dimensions variable. Collection SFMOMA, Camille W. and William S. Broadbent Fund purchase. © Daniel Reeves.
In due time
Film and video allows media artists to mirror the ways in which our absorption in art, music, and spiritual pursuits may change the way we experience time. In Daniel Reeves’s video, Sabda, a eulogy to the North Indian poet Kabir and other Bhakti poets, he transforms the time-based viewing experience by employing a series of emerging digital image process techniques. This artistic innovation is meant to grant the viewer further access to the Bhakti movement which started in Tamil Nadu, South India, in the sixth century and which emphasizes a direct connection to the divine presence in all things. In our contemporary world many artists, scientists, and religious figures celebrate the infinite mystery and flexibility of time. Here are three voices that express varying points of view to consider:

Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the twentieth century’s most important theologians. In his classic book The Sabbath, Heschel argues that sacredness in Judaism is not grounded in place, but in time: “Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals.”

Joseph Campbell
Perhaps one of the most important modern interpreters of the world’s religious traditions and myths to a popular audience, Joseph Campbell explored the connection between Buddhist thought and concepts of time. “Eternity isn’t some later time,” he said in an interview. “Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life.”

Jane McGonigal
As video and other digital games, many of which focus on quests, become an increasingly important platform for art and entertainment, scholars and critics have begun to take them more seriously as mythic, or even sacred, experiences. In her best-selling book Everything is Broken, game designer Jane McGonigal compares the absorption of gamers in their digital quests to athletes, artists, and musicians for whom time seems to stand still. McGonigal’s creation of massive, socially conscious, multi-player games breaks down space, so that everyone is connected by time.

Gary Hill
Site Recite, 1989. Single-channel video with sound, 4 min. Dimensions variable. Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase. © Gary Hill.
In the End
In Gary Hill’s short video, Site Recite, the camera pans over a table, slowly focusing on individual relics that, taken together, suggest a natural cycle of life and death. Bird skulls, brittle butterflies, rocks, shells, and crumpled notes make an appearance. A rhythmic voice-over reads a contemplative text, creating a melancholic mood. Site Recite can perhaps be interpreted as a contemporary version of memento mori, a genre of art intended to remind viewers of mortality.