Dark Nights of the Soul

Dark Nights of the Soul

Centre d’Art Bólit

Manuel Saiz, Toni Serra, Bill Viola

Noches Oscuras del Alma
text Rosa Pera

«You see nothing but appearance, but the essential
is decided by destiny. And then, when destiny takes
its course, even the heavens are astounded. To try
and deny this is to diminish the universe. Destiny
can transform stone into water. You have seen the
millwheel turn, come then and see the river that moves
it. Have you seen how the dust flies? Look rather at
the wind that makes it fly. You have seen how the
cauldron of ideas boils over. Be sensible and observe
the fire beneath that makes it boil. Do not worry about
patience; think rather about what patience has given
you. You claim to have seen something, but your acts
prove that you have seen nothing at all! Admire the
ocean before admiring the foam, for he who only sees
the foam becomes troubled by secrets, whilst he who
sees the ocean becomes smitten with admiration. Make
your heart like an ocean. He who only sees the foam
will spin with dizziness, but he who sees the ocean will
know no doubt.»

Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi:

Lantern in Daylight, Matnawi, 13th century

Dark Nights of the Soul, titled after the famous poem by
Spanish mystic San Juan de la Cruz, brings together works
by three artists who approach the subject of mysticism
from very different perspectives and methods. However,
a similar artistic medium is held in common, and all the
projects are presented as video or installation works in
different formats. The video installations by Bill Viola,
Toni Serra and Manuel Saiz contain spiritual knowledge
gleaned from different cultures and sensitivities. They rep
resent a range of regards concerning reflection and dis
covery of the hidden face of existence through experience
of the unknown, of dreams, and of visions of life and death.
Beyond beliefs and stereotypes, these artworks deal with
the symbolical constructs used to attain that which has no
hard-and-fast meaning.

Christian mysticism, Sufism, Zen Buddhism and Indian yoga
all teach the practice of contemplation and meditation
as ways of reaching knowledge of our Inner Being. Since
earliest times, mankind has felt the need to transcend the
material world and enter into contact with the immaterial
world beyond. Even today, experience of the intangible and
the invisible is the very stuff of spiritual searching, be this
through thought, literature and of course, art.

Toni Serra’s video Perro Corazón (1998 2004) is headed by
appropriate declarations by Mohamed Choukri, in which
the writer explains that, as opposed to our experience of
ephemeral reality, our transition through creative territory
can bring enduring knowledge about the truth of exist
ence, and mysticism and the practice of art as a vision can
bring a revelation of the occult. «Mystery has its charm,
more than reality. Reality fades away and dies. But mystery
has durability and duration. The creative imagination: now
all that will remain of man is his imagination and his crea
tion. Our most important experience is that of the imagi
nation which brings us from the ordinary to the sublime…

ideas are out there in the street and ordinary people can
experience them. (…) The question is how to reach this in
ner vision, beyond the outer vision? (…) This is the most
important thing. Not everybody attains the Sufi vision of
the inner creative vision; people fear the mysterious, the
imagination. (…) In Arabic, the prophets’ vision is called
ruhbia; I am not referring here to the religious prophets
but to the great philosophers, painters and writers. We are
all prophets»

The video image, like music, takes place within a con
crete time span; it flows in time; it only exists when being
seen. Its effects on the spectator vary according to space,
context and situation. Music and video attain their raison
d’être by contrasting with their opposites: music contrasts
with silence, video contrasts with darkness, with the dis
appearance of the image. This same feature is also present
in most spiritual disciplines. As Bill Viola adroitly points
out, religious and artistic practices both occur through
«illumination»1, as indeed in the projects presented at
Dark Nights of the Soul. Bill Viola’s contemplative work,
Toni Serra’s critical regard and Manuel Saiz’ ironic outlook
all focus in different ways on the image as vision and on its
relationship with awareness.

In A New Chance for Symbolic Dimension, Manuel Saiz appro
priates an excerpt from Ingmar Bergman’s film Ansiktet (The
Magician/The Face), in which cynical rationalist Dr Vergérus

1 «The Light Enters You», interview with Bill Viola in Shambhala Sun, November 2004.

calls upon magician-cum-hypnotiser Dr Vogler to account
for the latter’s paranormal powers. This happens in the pres
ence of political and religious figures and of members of
Vogler’s troupe including his androgynous wife, a charlatan
and an old witch. The scene takes place in the context of an
argument on the magician’s alleged ability to see visions.
In his video installation, Manuel Saiz removes some of the
original stills but, although the image is interrupted during
the argument, it does not disappear altogether. This is be
cause the image is projected onto a surface impregnated
with a light-retaining solution that makes the image appear
to the viewer as if revealed in a vision. Ingmar Bergman,
who explored the mysteries of death in so many of his films,
now offers us an opportunity to reflect on a hidden state of
awareness. Manuel Saiz also introduces an ironic note, in
volving us as actors in the scene as he invites us to reflect
on the essence of the moving image. Bill Viola observed
that, before photography brought about the death of the
image by making it an artefact of the past, the image was

already becoming de-materialised and internalized; before
becoming frozen as a register of the past, the image was
already the representation of reality in real time. This was
demonstrated in 1425 by Brunelleschi’s experiment on the
façade of Florence cathedral, when he presented the cam
era obscura to his contemporaries: «It is important to note
that the invention of photography was not the invention of
the camera, but that of the process of fixing an image onto a
plate» 2. However, when we seek the origin of photography
solely within the laws of optics, the properties of light and
the focus of the human eye, we realise that an image can
only be captured in a mirror. The ideal mirror is the black
depths of the pupil of the eye: therein lies the very essence
of the image, therein resides the image’s ability to become
visible, when reflected in other eyes. The very same princi
ple underlies many types of meditation practices in their
search for the interior vision of the self. «As the gateway to
the soul, the pupil of the eye has long been powerful sym
bolic image and evocative physical object in the search for
knowledge of the self. The color of the pupil is black. It is on
this black that you see your self-image when you try to look
closely into your own eye, or into the eye of another»3. Bill
Viola has developed these ideas through profound reflec
tion and numerous projects, delving deeply into theories
of perception and the philosophies of classical Greece, Zen
Buddhism and Islamic Sufism.

The Messenger is a video installation designed in 1996 for a
place of worship, specifically Durham Cathedral in the north
of England. It was recently shown at the Haunch of Venison
gallery in Berlin, and now at Bòlit, Centre d Art Contempo
rani. Girona. A large-scale projection shows a naked male
figure emerging very slowly from water, breathing deeply,
and then slowly submerging again, in a magnificent meta
phor referring to the ineffable transition between life and
death. Intense darkness and deep silence fill the space, pro
pitiating an atmosphere of sensorial immersion that invites
meditation through the collision of opposites, in an idea
that was previously developed by Viola in other works. In
Room for St John of the Cross (1983), for example, the artist
projects large images of jagged mountains, violently mov
ing with the jerky motion of the camera, on a wall behind
a black cell, recalling the imprisonment of San Juan de la
Cruz by the Spanish Inquisition. The murmur of a recitation
of poems can be heard beneath the imprisonment of San
Juan de la Cruz by the Spanish Inquisition. The murmur of
a recitation of poems by the saint can be heard beneath a
wailing wind, in an allusion to the connection of man with
his surroundings, through an intense feeling of liberation,
of fusion between the human and the divine.

2 Bill Viola: «Video Black-the Mortality of the image», in Illuminating Video. An essential
guide to videoart. New York: Aperture, 2005. p. 481.

3 Bill Viola: I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like. Los Angeles and Boston: Voyager Press/The
Contemporary Art Television Fund, 1986.

The Passing (1991) and Heaven and Earth (1992) are centred
on the moment of the transition of the soul. In these works,
Bill Viola takes the death of his own mother as his starting
point. In The Passing, we see a video documenting show
ing the last moments of a life, whereas on the two opositte
monitor screens of Heaven and Earth, images of the face of
the dying mother merge with images of Viola’s son open
ing his eyes shortly after birth. In Nantes Triptych (1992)
three simultaneous slow-movement projections contrast
real-life images of birth and death; in the center of these
we see a clothed man floating in a watery space chang
ing from turbulence to calm: the vacuum between life and
death. Here the camera acts like an eye that watches the
most private, most intimate moments of our life. Viola also
directs his artist’s regard onto the world of dreams, when
the unconscious mind acts in a suspended time space, free
from the constraints of reality. In his admiration of Giotto’s
frescoes in Assisi depicting Pope Innocent asleep, Viola de
scribes it as representing the «fluidity between the inner
world and the other world, through the porous, transpar
ent space of dreams»4. The territory of dreams is a mystical
space par excellence, close to meditation and transition,
in which the mind can reach out to the unknown.

Toni Serra’s works often appeal to the unconscious mind
through dreams, ritual and altered states of awareness.
In Istishara Archives a triptych reminiscent of classical
religious art in the western tradition , the artist presents
a series of video recordings on different aspects of the
Arabic imaginary, which he has created over the last two
decades. Toni Serra combines a collision of three differ
ent situations in this video installation that won the Nam
June Paik Award in 2006. The centre screen documents
the experience of dreams (Istishara), beliefs (Dar Al Ajira,
2000), ancestral practices (Last Night Dikr, 2005), sacrifice
(Dhia Dhikr, 2004) and an analytical experience contrast
ing East and West (Seffar, 2001-2004); on one of the side
screens we see 1991 Next Hundred Years (1991) collection
of images on the New York victory parades after the Gulf

4 Bill Viola: The Eye of the Hearth. A portrait of the artist, A film by Mark Kidel. London: BBC, 2005

War, and on the other side screen, we see The War Room
(2005) documentary on the development of war video
games by the Institute for Creative Technologies. This
was part of an agreement between the American Armed
Forces and the University of Southern California in 1999,
aimed at obtaining the necessary talent and resources
from among technology professionals to design simu

lation methods for training the troops: video games for
instructing troops, war played as a game.

The deep breathing of a sleeping girl, the incessant beat
ing of the rain and the restless sighing of wind in the trees
bring us through oneiric stories imbued with feelings of
solitude and fear; memory and transmission of ancestral
knowledge; the voice of an old travelling preacher that re
minds us of the impermanence of the body and material
goods and their insignificance in the face of death. Scenes
from daily life (eating, sleeping and meditating) intermin
gle with evocative images like the fusion of a well with a
human torso, in poetic allusion to the search for the Inner
Self and soul-cleansing transit by ritual trance and sacrifice.
In this collage in movement, Toni Serra confronts this per
sonal, inner world with images of arab identity construct
ed out by armed conflict and war. The voice of former US
president Bush resounds implacably over a military victory
parade through New York streets thronged with enthu
siastic crowds, «No president lightly sends the sons and

daughters of the nation off to war… we are here to define
the future of the world for the next hundred years», while
a marine proclaims that «we will free those people, and
then we will be able to return home and be free again».
On another screen, Abdelfettah Seffar from Fez reflects
on the current (2001) state of the world, and predicts that
«the only change that can happen is a crisis affecting the

whole system, and this will happen in the western world.
What we are seeing here is the result of globalisation.
We are caught between two influences: preserving our
way of life or accepting and importing western models…
we are trapped in the middle… the west has gone too far.
The system will fall on its own».

Istishara Archives is a network of inter textual images
which can be read as an accurate premonition from one
decade ago, now that we are witnessing the devastat
ing break-down of a whole economic and values system
previously thought to be indestructible.

In their study of war photographs, Vicente Sánchez-Biosca
and Sonia García López clearly show how «the retrieval
and migration of images is done by taking photos which,
either by design or by chance, have been proved to cause
dismay in viewers’ hearts. This effectively means that they
have become (or are in the process of becoming) symbols
of human, political, social ideological or ethical values»5.
Images take on a life of their own. They are symbolic con
structs that are as powerful as or even more powerful
than the tangible or intangible reality that they reflect.
To return to the words of Rumi, we must strive to see the
ocean and not just the foam, to go from the material to
the unattainable, from the outside to the inside, from the
surface of things to their deepest essence. This is the mes
sage brought to us by the diverse but concurring projects
in Dark Nights of the Soul.

Rosa Pera

Manuel Saiz

Logroño, 1961. Manuel Saiz is a visual artist and independ
ent curator residing in London who has been exhibiting
his sculptures, photographic reproductions and video
works since the mid-1980s in art galleries and museums
all over the world. From 1995 onwards, his work has been
focused on videos and video installations, which have
been projected in numerous cinema and video festivals
including Impakt (Utrecht), VideoLisboa (Lisbon), Videoex
(Zurich), International Short Film Festival (Hamburg) and
Transmediale (Berlin). Recently, his video-installations
have been seen in exhibitions such as Specialized Techni
cians Required (Galería Moriarty, Madrid), Nominal Politics
(T1+2 Space, London), East End Academy (Whitechapel
Gallery, London) and Save the Day (Kunstbüro, Vienna).

Manuel Saiz was a founder member of TheVideoArtFounda
tion in 2003. He directed the 25hrs Festival (www.25hrs.org)
with a selection of 300 international video artists, gen
erating a journey through the history of video since the

5 «Imágenes en migración», in Antonio Monegal (Ed.), Política y (po)ética de las imáge
nes de guerra. Barcelona: Paidós Estética, 2007.

1990s. Other projects currently being developed include
videoDictionary (www.videodictionary.org) and artDVD
book (www.artdvdbook.com). | www.saiz.co.uk

Toni Serra

Barcelona, 1961. Toni Serra is the author of texts, videos,
interactive and other sub-media projects. Founder mem
ber of OVNI (Unidentified Video Observatory) archive and
OVNI programmer and researcher since 1993.

Serra has explored different visions through his videos, a
no man’s land between documentary and poetry with the
constant presence of the notion of trance and the realities
of dreams. His first works, filmed in Barcelona, New York
and Tangiers, raised questions on beauty, on the mystery of
the ephemeral and the marginal. In 1994, back in Barcelo
na, he started the TV Code video series, a personal criticism
of the alienating mechanisms of the mass media, in which
he seeks to parody its spectacular power of seduction and
to deconstruct its hypnotic ability to create social models
and identitarian stereotypes. He came to understand criti
cism as a tool for making things appear and for discovering
other worlds. This in turn led him to reflect and experiment
on how video relates to the visionary, to our inner experi
ence and to visions that move through worlds, spaces and
times, through the real and the unreal, through dreaming
and wakefulness, through poetry and prophecy… like a
ship that erases the borders and limits across which it sails.
This is the underlying idea behind the Hamdulillah Tapes
and Dream Archives series, a work in progress since 1998
when the artist began to alternate his residence between
Barcelona and the Moroccan city of Duar Msuar.
| www.desorg.org (On-line Archives: Abu-Ali & Toni Serra)

Bill Viola

New York, 1951. Bill Viola is widely acknowledged as a pio
neer in the world of video art and has gained international
acclaim as one of the major artists in this genre.

He has played an important role in the establishment of
video as a major form of contemporary art and, by doing
so, has contributed to the broadening of its scope in terms
of technology, content and historical dimension. For over
35 years, Viola has produced video tapes, created archi
tectural video installations, sound landscapes, electronic
music performances, plasma screen video compositions,
and works for television. His video installations –total en
vironments that envelop the viewer in image and sound–
employ sophisticated state of-the-art technologies and
are distinguished by their precision and direct simplicity.
They are exhibited in museums and galleries all over the
world and can be found in many major public and private
collections. Viola’s single channel videotapes have been

distributed in cinemas and broadcast around the world,
while his writings have been widely published and trans
lated into many languages.

Viola uses video to explore the phenomena of sense per
ception as an avenue to self-knowledge. His works focus
on the universal human experiences of birth, death and
the unfolding of consciousness. They have roots in east
ern and western art as well as in the spiritual traditions
of Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism and Christian mysticism.
Viola’s use of the inner language of subjective thoughts
and collective memory in his videos reaches out to a wide
audience and inspires a direct, personal response to his art.
| www.billviola.com

A festival of sacred and world music conjures up, above
all, the ideas of spirituality and confluence of cultures.
The event continues to stand at the crossroads of diver
sity, with oral tradition as its driving force and music as its
vehicle, with repertories of many different origins, colours
and sensitivities, from ancestral to contemporary, from
near and faraway.

This festival is now in its tenth year, after a fruitful decade
that has enabled us to reach out to a much wider per
spective than before we began this venture. The occasion
deserves a special celebration, and so this year’s festival
is taking place in conjunction with the field of visual arts.
A dialogue with Bòlit, Centre d’Art Contemporani. Girona
produced brisk results. From among the options available
to us, there was unanimous agreement from the start to
invite artist Bill Viola to illustrate this year’s festival poster.
There was even more excitement and anticipation when
we decided to ask Viola to present one of his most em
blematic works here in Girona. Our dream has come true
with the presentation of The Messenger video installation
in the context of Dark Nights of the Soul exhibition by
Bòlit. This is a handsome metaphor of the cultural life of
the city, with music and visual arts flowing together in
the same direction, towards the reflection that stems
from creation.

Víctor García de Gomar and Rosa Pera




Istishara [Visions of Otherness]

Led by: Toni Serra. Talks given by: Dalila Ennadre, Xavi Hur
tado and Àlex Muñoz. Date: 6-10 July, 2009. Venue: Niu.

The workshop will start with a screening of a selection of
audiovisual creations: independent documentaries, creative
video and media archaeology, mostly from the OVNI [Uni
dentified Video Observatory] archives (www.desorg.org).

We propose to start by discussing a series of videos on a tight
rope between social criticism / reflection and an introspective
questioning of human nature: dual aspects of a single reality
which have often been dissociated by our prevailing western
tradition, thereby depriving us of the means of deepening
our critical regard, not only on ourselves and our society, but
also on the role of video as a creator of visions and imageries.

The development of consumer technology has brought
with it an increasing trivialisation of the image, a saturation
of visual stimuli, and a masking of other realities. However,
it has also given us video as an everyday tool with which
we can reflect on the realities of our lives and our dreams,
and with which we can create our own imagery; it has her
alded the arrival of an independent visual discourse, and
thus provided access to non-cloned visions. The workshop
aims to explore and consider these possibilities through
screenings and discussions of video artworks, interven
tions by guest artists, and contributions from participants.

There will be screenings and discussions on videos that
explore the mechanisms of social and identitarian control,
the violence and conflicts of globalization; the image as a
spectacular mirage, media deconstruction; the devices of
otherness (migration and the creation of the “other”), in
ner experiences, initiation journeys, accounts of dreams,
transits towards other realities, indigenous and Islamic
rhizomes, and much more.

Interventions by:

Dalila Ennadre

Casablanca, 1966. Dalila Ennadre lived in Guyana, Germa
ny, Morocco and Canada from 1985-1996 before settling
in France. The artist’s work consists in building bridges to
bring people and cultures closer together. It is based on
the fact that ignorance is the main cause of fear and dis
crimination, as well as being the origin of conflicts, racism
and all manner of exclusions. It is important for her to con
tinue working in this direction, striving in her documen
taries to create a universal language which speaks of the
things that connect people to life.

Xavi Hurtado

Barcelona, 1961. Xavi Hurtado began working with video
in the 1990s, questioning the interview as a means of rep
resentation. He then moved to New York where he studied
Interactive Media and did a series of projects in which he
used cinema and found footage to explore the links be
tween technology and identity. In 1996, he moved to Co

lombia, where he worked as a university lecturer in Bogotá
and travelled around the country. Consumption of yagé led
him to the Amazon where, after attending workshops on
video and dreams in 2001 and 2002, he created the Dream
Tapes series. In 2004 and 2005 his trips to Quito and Tena
(River Napo) in Ecuador gave rise to other joint projects
on the indigenous rhizome, now within the context of the
Americas Social Forum. In 2005 2006 he travelled along the
Colombian Pacific coast and to the Cauca region taking part
on community organization processes among indigenous
peoples. Nowadays, he’s working in the unstructured Por
venir archive (Bogotá, 2009) of 1940s 1960s American and
British colonial and propaganda 16mm films for Latin Amer
ica. Xavi Hurtado’s work has been exhibited in art centres
and at national and international festivals. It can be viewed
at www.desorg.org and through Hamaca distributors.

Àlex Muñoz

Barcelona, 1966. Àlex Muñoz is a video-maker and photogra
pher. He has been involved since the year 2000 in an ongoing
project entitled Frontera Sur (South Border) on both sides of
the border between Spain and Morocco, one of the most un
equal borders in the world. Current projects include editing a
documentary on hip-hop, filming a video on therapeutic proc
esses, and recording for an exhibition on the Bages County
workers’ movement in Catalonia. His regard has now turned
inwards, with a video on his relationship with nature, in which
he explores how our perception, our vision, our feeling and our
relationship with the outer world all vary and change… presup
posing the existence of an inner and an outer world.

| For further information and reservations: www.bolit.cat / info@bolit.cat / 972 427 627



EverySaturdayandlastWednesdayofeachmonth.12noon 2pm.
Free of charge. Small groups (max. 15 persons). Places by res
ervation only. Includes guided visit around exhibitions at Bòlit
La Rambla, Bòlit Sant Nicolau, Dadespai and Niu (Niu will open
to the public only when no activities are taking place).

| For further information and reservations: www.bolit.cat / info@bolit.cat / 972 427 627




J.S.Bach: Variacions Goldberg BWV988. Diego Ares, harpsichord.
In the context of the Bill Viola’s installation The Messenger (1996).
In the 10th Festival of World and Sacred Music. Girona. Price:10€.
This day the exhibition will be closed due to the setting up
of the concert.

| http://www.ajuntament.gi/musiquesreligioses/

Organized and produced by: Ajuntament de Girona and
Generalitat de Catalunya. Departament de Cultura i Mitjans de
Comunicació. Director: Rosa Pera. Production: Farners Cabra.
Management, press & publishing coordinator: Diana Sans.
Identity design – Design consultant: Estudi Lamosca.

In collaboration with:

Sponsored by:

Curator and direction of the project: Rosa Pera
Special collaboration: Víctor García de Gomar
Production: Farners Cabra
Management, press & publishing coordinator: Diana Sans
Graphic design: Nitis Designs
Poster photography: Ambient Ideas Photography
Installation Coordinator: Xavier Torrent
Technical coordinator: Bobbi Jablonski
Assistant and audiovisual installation: Miquel Giner
Constructions: Fusteria Tianes & Pinta Croma
Vigilance: Omar Al-Ajvani Vázquez,
Adela García-Caamaño & Mariona Terrats
Guided visits: Beatriz García Muñoz
Translations: Link traduccions

In collaboration with:

With additional support:

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: B&B Bells Oficis, Abel Garriga, Bill Hall,
Haunch of Venison (Berlin), Jaume Fitó (Trans21), Rosa Llop, Chris
Osborne, Sergi Opisso, Xavier Rubert de Ventós, Teresa Sala,

| www.bolit.cat / info@bolit.cat / 972 427 627

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