Asia Society holds the first retrospective of Nam June Paik in New York after more than a decade.
On 5 September 2014, New York’s Asia Society Museum launched Nam June Paik’s retrospective exhibition. Spanning the artist’s entire artistic career, the show explores his visionary approach to technology and the creation of innovative video and new media art.
The father of video art
Nam June Paik (b. 1932, Seoul), a pioneering figure in new media art, is widely considered the “father of video art”. Not only did he explore the use and application of technology in art, he also made it more approachable and closer to human experience. Since his early career days in Germany working with Fluxus to his permanent move to New York, Paik experimented with music, sound, moving image, television, transmissions and satellite communication, and robotics. His work combined performative elements with engineering and multimedia resources.
Paik attempted to merge the spheres of technology and human life, ultimately aiming to “humanise” technological experience, while keeping in mind the risks of letting technology take over human life.
Paik wrote in a statement on TV Bra for a Living Scultpure (1969):
By using TV as a bra . . . the most intimate belonging of a human being, we will demonstrate the human use of technology, and also stimulate viewers . . . to look for the new, imaginative and humanistic ways of using our technology.
Michelle Yun, Asia Society’s curator of modern and contemporary art, told The Wall Street Journal:
A big point of the show and the works we selected is that he really did want to humanise technology and create a personal way to connect. [Some of the works on show] are about the risk of letting humanity be overridden by technology, and that you have to remember that humanity comes first, to build a bridge and ensure that technology doesn’t override the human instinct for the human condition.
TV as a medium
One of Paik’s longest collaborations was with avant-garde cello player Charlotte Moorman, until her death in 1991. In their performance and video artworks, Paik experimented with the potential of TV as medium.
Their projects involved the use of TV monitors that projected images and videos while Moorman performed. Opera Sextronique (1967) became one of their most famed works, when a performing, topless Moorman was arrested for indecency. To honour her and celebrate their collaboration, Paik presented Room for Charlotte Moorman, a room installation in the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993.
Robots as humans
Paik’s first robot, Robot AK-456 (1964), built with Japanese engineer Shuya Abe, had no useful function; rather, it was built to mimic humans by talking, walking and defecating beans.
Melissa Chiu commented to The Wall Street Journal:
Are robots really the future? Some of the robots he created had human functions but didn’t do much else, so they talked and walked and defecated but didn’t actually do anything as robots to help our lives. It was simply an idea to create robots to be one of us.
Family of Robot (1986) epitomises Paik’s humanisation of robots: a traditional Korean family built with vintage TVs and radios on a human scale, with no ambulatory function, but with individual characters showing through uniquely selected moving images on their TV screens.
The electronic superhighway
In a proposal for the Rockefeller Foundation in 1974, Paik coined the term “electronic superhighway”, which is considered to be a precursor of Internet’s early moniker “information superhighway”. Paik also collaborated with TV networks, and some of his work pioneered satellite communication and video art, connecting simultaneously with other locations worldwide.
Goodmorning Mr. Orwell (1984), a televised event in collaboration with WNET/THIRTEEN in New York and F.R. 3 in Paris, was Paik’s first major international satellite broadcast. The programme was transmitted simultaneously in France, Germany, Korea, the Netherlands and the United States on 1 January 1984. It combined simultaneously broadcast footage of live programmes in New York and Paris with video interventions by the artist using his 1969 invention with Abe, the Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
- What is…robotic art? Art Radar explains – September 2014 – Art Radar explores the definition of robotic art through its origins, the seminal works of key artists in Asia and elsewhere and key exhibitions
- Cyborgs, crystals and concrete temples: Korean artist Lee Bul – profile – September 2014 – Art Radar profiles pioneering South Korean female artist Lee Bul
- Naziha Mestaoui: Between spiritualism, environment and technology – artist profile – August 2014 – Art Radar profiles Paris-based Belgian-Tunisian Naziha Mestaoui architect turned multimedia artist
- Science, technology and visual art: Artists in a hybrid world – November 2013 – “TEA/Super Connect–2013 International Techno Art Exhibition” brought together international artists working with biology, medicine, computer science and robotics to create their works
- Was Nam June Paik’s Tate Liverpool show information overload? Critics report – March 2011 – Art Radar picks out a few of the best critic quotes on Nam June Paik, a Tate Liverpool retrospective celebrating the late artist’s career
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on exhibitions of influential contemporary artists