Nam June Paik
April 26, 1997
For over thirty years, Nam June Paik has participated in and helped to shape the video art scene. He has worked in the medium almost since its inception and is rightfully called by many the "father of video art." Paik's principal focus has been the construction of video sculptures but he has also pioneered new types of performance and video signal manipulation.
Born in Seoul in 1932, Paik grew up and studied aesthetics in Tokyo. He later emigrated to Munich to pursue graduate studies in music history.
In the 1960's, Paik, John Cage, Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys, and Ben Vautier founded Fluxus. Its purpose lay in "trying to purge art of its pretensions". Fluxus flowed from Dadaism and would lead to Conceptual art and video art minimalism. Like the Dadaists, the members of Fluxus believed that "anything can be art and anyone can do it." Through performances, manifestos, music, and actions, they sought to rid the world of its "bourgeois sickness."
It was during this period that Paik and cellist Charlotte Moorman collaborated on several performance pieces. In 1967, the duo performed "Opera Sextronique," in which Paik acted as the finger-board for the topless Moorman. After one performance in New York, Paik and Moorman were arrested for public indecency. The charges were later dismissed. In the 1969 "TV bra for Living Sculpture," Moorman played the cello topless while wearing 2 video monitors as a bra.
During this period, Paik also collaborated with electronics engineer, Shuya Abe to creat a mechanical robot, "K-456," as well as the first video synthesizer.
In 1979, Paik accepted a position at the National Art Academy in Düsseldorf where he still teaches. Today he divides most of his time between New York city and Germany. In his New York loft, bits of televisions are scattered everywhere in various states of disassembly. Not one of the televisions is connected to an antenna or cable.
Recent projects include the design of a Swatch web page (http://www.swatch-art.com) and "Split Nude with Frogs" (1996). In the latter, televisions lying in a cast iron bathtub display the image of a nude woman while bathroom frogs fill the remaining space.
One of Paik's ongoing projects is entitled "The Electronic Superhighway," a term Paik coined in 1974 in a report about media and the future for the Rockefeller Foundation. The installation, in its latest form, consists of over 700 televisions and 38 laser disc players. The doorway and various sets are built of televisions.
Nam June Paik, himself, is a small modest man who isn't afraid to laugh at himself. Coming out of a tradition of challenging conventions, Paik also challenges the traditional reverential attitude taken towards artists. Approachable and honest, Paik still entertains and offends people today, 28 years after the debut of "TV bra for Living Sculpture." He maintains his positive attitude towards technology but still remains critical. Paik says: "Like [Marshall] McLuhan say, we are antenna for changing society. But not only antenna - we also have output capacity, capacity to humanize technology. My job is to see how establishment is working and to look for little holes where I can get my fingers in and tear away walls."
List of selected works
Denison, D.C. "Video Art's Guru." The New York Times 25 April, 1982, SECTION 6, page 54.
Higgins, Tim. "Paik Show a Jolting Step into the 21st Century." The Morning Call (Allentown) 15 March, 1997, ENTERTAINMENT, page A46.
Protzman, Ferdinand. "Pixels at An Exhibition; Nam June Paik's Cyber-Smart Art." The Washington Post 27 January 1996, ARTS page 5.
Strickland, Carol. "Guggenheim Exhibit Reveals Promise, Pitfalls Of Electronic Art." The Christian Science Monitor 18 July, 1996. ARTS page 10.
Weightman, Sharon. "Transformed by Technology; 'The Electronic Super Highway' by video artist and visionary Nam June Paik is coming to the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art." The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL) 9 February, 1997, ARTS & STYLE, page G-1.
"SWATCH: Swatch Art Special 1996 - Zapping' by Nam June Paik" M2 Presswire 28 February 1996.