Published: 20th July 2018
Remembering Nam Jun Paik, the Father of Video Art through his popular works like 'Charlotte Moorman II'
Paik’s works are still exhibited around the world. A recent show at the MIT List Visual Arts Centre in Boston showcased some of his more popular installations such as the TV Cello (1976)
Nam Jun Paik is a personal favourite and the first one to be featured in this series of ‘meet the artists’. Fondly remembered as the Father of Video Art, Paik worked extensively with mass media, especially television and videography, and sometimes with sound as well. After fleeing from Korea with his family in 1950, his life involved travelling and living all over the world. He was mostly based out of West Germany and the USA. He studied music history and engaged with musicians and composers; this led to his subsequent participation in Fluxus — an international collective of artists, poets, composers and designers. This would lead to his joining the Neo-Dada art movement that was shaping up during the 1960s. The era was re-energised using pop culture, mass media and absurdism, and challenging all forms of traditionalism.
Paik’s works are still exhibited around the world. A recent show at the MIT List Visual Arts Centre in Boston showcased some of his more popular installations such as the TV Cello (1976) and Charlotte Moorman II (1995). His depiction of fragmented and disjointed realities, man’s foray into modernity and the gradual morphing of mankind through, and often into, technology continues to resonate with the viewer now as much as it did back in the Neo-Dadaist age. Space and temporality play a major role in decoding Paik’s works. Some are short videos on loop played at different times on several small screens stacked one over another. A single sitting may not reveal much but a closer, longer look shows us a reflection of our daily lives overdosing on redundant information. Another one is an indoor garden made up of vintage TV sets that have been repurposed as planters and pots. Set in a dim, indoor space, the TV sets also illuminated the surrounding, casting an eerie, organic glow forcing us to question our evolution into a media-centric society.
Art and the artist: Nam June Paik's ElectroSymbio-Phonics for Phoenix, 1992, on view at the Phoenix Art Museum
The array of kinetic art that Paik offers is at once astounding because of its imaginative elements and an exploration of the self. By lending agency to a pile of discarded machines, he turns simple forms into sculptures with meaning. His involvement in art and media popularised the television and made it bigger than a mere idiot box. Paik’s was the brain behind the coinage ‘information superhighway’ which is now a canon in mass communication basics.
He was one of the first artists to employ electronic media tools as more than just channels of information dissemination, thus setting a trend that is hugely popular among modern art aficionados even today. From a handheld screen to satellite broadcasts, his artwork managed to attain what most other arts had failed to do until then — immortality. Because of its ability to be copied, the structure, composition and content could be replicated faithfully to the original. Some interesting creations to look out for would be The more the better (2000), which comprised of a stack of 1003 monitors for the Seoul Olympics, Electronic Superhighway: Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii (1995), TV Buddha (1976), and the famous Bakelite Robot (2002) that has become an emblem of Paik’s body of work.