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Bill Viola’s The Passing

ONE OF THE most important events in the last thirty years of art history has been the use of the new, populist, commercial technology of television in the service of what may be art’s most ancient and esoteric ambition: the articulation of those inarticulate states of being, the almost unnameable sensations and feelings that traverse the subject’s interior silence. Seemingly too elusive, too protean, to bring into focus, these states seem to force us to regard them skeptically—as mirages, swiftly changing currents, too transient to be influential. In fact they are the eddies of the unconscious’ undertow. The question is: can television evoke them without rationalizing away their intense and uncanny meaningfulness? Can it declare them in all the intricacy so unsettling to ordinary consciousness and experience?

Bill Viola shows that the specious present of television space is paradoxically

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