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Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House

A work made of color video, sound (monitor), wood chair, headphones, spotlight, and pedestal.
© 1982 Bill Viola.

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  • A work made of color video, sound (monitor), wood chair, headphones, spotlight, and pedestal.




Bill Viola
American, born 1951

About this artwork

For over thirty years, Bill Viola has created single-channel videos as well as sound and video installations that focus on spirituality and explore multiple levels of human consciousness. In constructing these works, the artist draws from his extensive study of Eastern and Western art, philosophy, and religion. He also consistently deploys cutting-edge technologies, investigating new ways to manipulate viewers’ perception. Both the videos in The Reflecting Pool and the installation Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House are important early works that foreshadow Viola’s later creations, combining philosophic inquiry with captivating physical environments.
The haunting Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House contains a solitary wood chair with headphones attached, facing a television monitor. Viola, looking visibly fatigued, appears on the screen, sitting in his own chair. Here, the artist compels viewers into an intimate relationship: they sit at eye level with him, listening to the sound of his breathing through the headphones. The silence and tension in the installation is disrupted at irregular intervals by a dissonant, jarring sound that echoes throughout the gallery. At the same time, Viola is hit over the head with a magazine. Taken as a whole, the work suggests a scene of execution or torture, with its single chair and its haggard artist, sleep-deprived and assaulted while seated alone in an empty room.
In both The Reflecting Pool and Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House, the artist urges viewers to become active participants. Of his work, Viola stated, “You’re a part of it. It’s not something that’s just a fixed projection from the past.”


Currently Off View


Contemporary Art


Bill Viola


Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Color video, sound (monitor), wood chair, headphones, spotlight, and pedestal


Dimensions vary with installation

Credit Line

Purchased with funds provided by Barbara Bluhm, Frances Dittmer, Ruth Horwich, Susan and Lewis Manilow, Marcia and Irving Stenn, Jr., Dr. and Mrs. Paul Sternberg, and Lynn and Allen Turner; through prior gifts of Leigh and Mary Block

Reference Number



© 1982 Bill Viola.

Extended information about this artwork

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