Viola attempted to appear in as many photos as possible in one day in Florence. Image: © art/tapes/22 Historic Archive, Florence, Enzo Stella. © 2013 Gianni Melotti
Could this be the first ever example of artistic photobombing? The year was 1975 and the young man in the wide-lapelled coat is the US artist Bill Viola. The image documents his performance Free Global Distribution (Surrogate Broadcast TV System), in which the artist tried “to secretly stand in as many tourists’ photographs as possible in one day on the streets of Florence”, in this case in front of the Duomo.
Viola was working in Florence at the video production studio Art/Tapes/22, and the title shows that “Bill’s mind was never far from” the media technology he would become known for, says his partner, Kira Perov. She suggests that the photographs may have been displayed at Zona, the contemporary artist’s space where Viola’s installation Il Vapore (1975) was first shown. That work, which includes a pot of boiling eucalyptus leaves and a video monitor showing Viola filling the vessel with water from his mouth, returns to Florence this month as a loan from Rome’s MaXXI for Electronic Renaissance, a retrospective of Viola’s work, which is due to open at the Palazzo Strozzi on 10 March (until 23 July).