Bill Viola’s Ocean without a shore, which takes its title from the Andalucian Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi (1165–1240), is about the threshold between life and death or, as the artist has commented: ‘the presence of the dead in our lives’. The installation is emblematic of Viola’s considered attention to human beings undergoing various states of transformation and renewal. In the installation three video screens become surfaces for the manifestation of images of the dead attempting to re-enter our world. According to Viola’s press statement for the Venice Biennale:
The video sequence describes the human form as it gradually coalesces from within a dark field and slowly comes into view, moving from obscurity into the light. As the figure approaches, it becomes more solid and tangible until it breaks through an invisible threshold and passes into the physical world. The crossing of the threshold is an intense moment of infinite feeling and acute physical awareness. Poised at that juncture, for a brief instant all beings can touch their true nature, equal parts material and essence. However, once incarnate, these beings must eventually turn away from mortal existence and return to the emptiness from where they came.