Diving into the Depths of Self: A Look at the Self-Portraits of Bill Viola and Laurie Anderson

Creative Arts 1.2 Creative Arts Skills, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 3: Questions of Identity


In the world of contemporary art, the self-portrait is a medium through which artists can explore and express their identities in the most intimate ways. Two artists who have embraced this form with remarkable ingenuity are Bill Viola and Laurie Anderson. This post will delve into their respective approaches to self-portraiture and how their works can inspire our own exploration of identity.

Bill Viola: The Master of Video Art:

American artist Bill Viola is widely recognised as a pioneer in the field of video art. His self-portraits are not just about physical representation; they are philosophical explorations of human consciousness and the nature of existence.

One of Viola’s most notable self-portraits is “The Reflecting Pool” (1977-1979). In this work, Viola experiments with time and space using video. The piece begins with Viola jumping into a pool, but rather than showing the expected splash, the video instead freezes, with Viola suspended in mid-air, creating a mesmerising and thought-provoking scene that is both a reflection of Viola’s own identity and a comment on the nature of perception and reality.

Viola’s self-portraits often revolve around themes of birth, death, and transformation, using water and light as powerful metaphors. His exploration of these universal experiences helps the viewer connect with his work on a deeply personal level.

Laurie Anderson: A Unique Blend of Performance and Technology:

Laurie Anderson is an American avant-garde artist, composer, and filmmaker whose work spans performance art, pop music, and multimedia projects. Her self-portraits often take the form of performances that combine music, video, and storytelling.

“O Superman” (1981), one of Anderson’s most well-known works, is a great example of her unique approach to self-portraiture. This eight-minute song, which reached number two in the UK charts, presents Anderson’s voice altered by a vocoder, creating a robotic tone. The lyrics, filled with personal and political commentary, act as a form of self-reflection and self-expression.

In “The End of the Moon” (2004), a performance piece, Anderson narrates personal stories and thoughts, accompanied by her violin playing. The piece becomes a self-portrait through her stories and music, offering glimpses into her life, beliefs, and experiences.


Bill Viola and Laurie Anderson offer compelling examples of how self-portraits can go beyond physical representation to explore deeper aspects of identity and existence. Their work serves as a potent reminder that the self-portrait is not merely an exercise in vanity but can be a profound exploration of our place in the world. Their innovative use of video, sound, and performance in their self-portraits provides a wealth of inspiration for artists looking to explore their own identities in creative and meaningful ways.

It is fascinating to see how these artists use their chosen mediums to navigate the realm of self-portraiture, and it has been an enriching experience studying their works. As I continue my journey in creating self-portraits, I will undoubtedly carry the insights gleaned from these artists’ works with me.




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