The desert is a place of solitude, purification, and initiation. Paradoxical, it seems catastrophically lifeless yet is a space of spiritual life, a mysterious arena of visual and emotional reversals—the ultimate uncanny. For Bill Viola, the desert is emblematic not of loneliness but of the “inner space of the mind no telescope can reach.” Rather than an “empty, barren space,” it is a space of pure possibility, where sensations are heightened until they merge in what Viola calls the “expansive inclusive view.” There is no sense of ego, time, or thing in the desert, only of “deep connection.” The desert, Viola reiterates, is “positive,” not negative.”1

Five new pieces of Viola’s will represent the U.S. at this year’s Venice Biennale, which opens next month, and his Déserts, 1994, premiered in the U.S. at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in February. When I talked with him at the opening, he

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