June Paik--composer, performer, and video artist--played a pivotal
role in introducing artists and audiences to the possibilities of
using video for artistic expression. His works explore the ways
in which performance, music, video images, and the sculptural form
of objects can be used in various combinations to question our accepted
notions of the nature of television.
Growing up in Korea, Nam June Paik studied piano and composition.
When his family moved, first to Hong Kong and then to Japan, he
continued his studies in music while completing a degree in aesthetics
at the University of Tokyo. After graduating, Paik went to Germany
to pursue graduate work in philosophy. There he became part of a
group of Fluxus artists who were challenging established notions
of what constituted art. Their work often found expression in performances
and happenings that incorporated random events and found objects.
1959 Paik performed his composition Hommage a John Cage.
This performance combined a pre-recorded collage of music and sounds
with "on stage" sounds created by people, a live hen, a motorcycle,
and various objects. Random events marked this and other Paik compositions.
Instruments were often altered or even destroyed during the performance.
Most performances were as much a visual as a musical experience.
broadcast television programming invaded the culture, Paik began
to experiment with ways to alter the video image. In 1963 he included
his first video sculptures in an exhibition, Exposition of Music--Electronic
Television. Twelve television sets were scattered throughout
the exhibit space. The electronic components of these sets were
modified to create unexpected effects in the images being received.
Other video sculptures followed. Distorted TV used manipulation
of the sync pulse to alter the image. Magnet TV used a large magnet
which could be moved on the outside of the television set to change
the image and create abstract patterns of light. Paik began to incorporate
television sets into a series of robots. The early robots were constructed
largely of bits and pieces of wire and metal; later ones were built
from vintage radio and television sets refitted with updated electronic
of Paik's video installations involve a single monitor, others use
a series of monitors. In TV Buddha a statue of Buddha sits
facing its own image on a closed-circuit television screen. For
TV Clock twenty-four monitors are lined up. The image on
each is compressed into a single line with the lines on succeeding
monitors rotated to suggest the hands of a clock representing each
hour of the day. In Positive Egg the video camera is aimed
at a white egg on a black cloth. In a series of larger and larger
monitors, the image is magnified until the actual egg becomes an
abstract shape on the screen.
In 1964 Paik moved to New York City and began a collaboration with
classical cellist Charlotte Moorman to produce works combining video
with performance. In TV Bra for Living Sculpture small video
monitors became part of the cellist's costume. With TV Cello
television sets were stacked to suggest the shape of the cello.
As Moorman drew the bow across the television sets, images of her
playing, video collages of other cellists, and live images of the
performance area combined.
the first consumer-grade portable video cameras and recorders went
on sale in New York in 1965, Paik purchased one. Held up in a traffic
jam created by Pope Paul VI's motorcade, Paik recorded the parade
and later that evening showed it to friends at Cafe a Go-Go. With
this development in technology it was possible for the artist to
create personal and experimental video programs.
was invited to participate in several experimental workshops including
one at WGBH in Boston and another at WNET in New York City. The
Medium is the Medium, his first work broadcast by WGBH, was
a video collage that raised questions about who is in control of
the viewing experience. At one point in a voice-over Paik instructed
the viewers to follow his directions, to close or open their eyes,
and finally to turn off the set. At WGBH Paik and electronics engineer
Shuya Abe built the first model of Paik's video synthesizer which
produced non-representational images. Paik used the synthesizer
to accompany a rock-and-roll soundtrack in Video Commune
and to illustrate Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. At WNET
Paik completed a series of short segments, The Selling of New
York, which juxtaposed the marketing of New York and the reality
of life in the city. Global Groove, produced with John Godfrey,
opened with an explanation that it was a "glimpse of a video landscape
of tomorrow when you will be able to switch to any TV station on
the earth and TV guides will be as fat as the Manhattan telephone
book." What followed was a rapid shift from rock-and-roll dance
sequences to Allen Ginsberg to Charlotte Moorman with the TV cello
to an oriental dancer to John Cage to a Navaho drummer to a Living
Theatre performance. Throughout, the video image was manipulated
by layering images, reducing dancers to a white line outlining their
form against a wash of brilliant color, creating evolving abstract
forms. Rapid edits of words and movements and seemingly random shifts
in the backgrounds against which the dancers perform create a dreamlike
sense of time and space.
Nam June Paik pioneered the development of electronic techniques
to transform the video image from a literal representation of objects
and events into an expression of the artist's view of those objects
and events. In doing so, he challenges our accepted notion of the
reality of televised events. His work questions time and memory,
the nature of music and art, even the essence of our sensory experiences.
Most significantly, perhaps, that work questions our experience,
our understanding, and our definitions of "television."
Nam June Paik with "Piano Piece" (1993)
Photo courtesy of Holly Solomon Gallery, New York
JUNE PAIK. Born in Seoul, Korea, 1932. Educated at the University
of Tokyo, 1952-56. Studied music with Stockhousen at Darmstadt;
art history and philosophy in Germany, 1956-58. Worked as video
artist in electronic music studio for Radio Cologne, 1958-61; associated
with the Fluxus group, New York, 1960s; artist-in-residence, WGBH-TV,1969;
artist-in-residence, WNET-TV, New York, 1971; works closely with
Japanese artist Shigeko Kubota. Address: Holly Solomon Gallery,
172 Mercer Street, New York, New York 10012, U.S.
1970 Video Commune
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1974 Tribute to John Cage
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