Nam June Paik

     Nam June Paik was born in Seoul, Korea on July 20, 1932. He was the fifth and
youngest child of a textile merchant. In 1947, at the age of 14, he studied
piano and composition with two of Korea's foremost composers. The family moved
to Tokyo, Japan in 1950 to avoid the havoc of the Korean War. Paik studied
music, history, art history, and philosophy at the University of Tokyo from 1953
to 1956. He did his graduate dissertation on Schoenberg. In 1956, he moved to

Germany to pursue his interest in avant-garde music. He studied music history
under Thrasybulos Georgiades at the University of Munich and composition under

Wolfgang Fortner at the Hochschule fur Musik. He also attended classes
under Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luigi Nono, David Tudor, and John Cage. Paik lived
in Cologne for the next five years and then returned to Japan for a short time
to conduct experiments with electromagnets and color TV sets. In 1964, Paik
moved to New York and still resides there today. While he lived in Korea, Paik
had become familiar with the work of Schoenberg. Paik was interested in

Schoenberg above all others because of his radical compositions. They reflected
the social atmosphere of Seoul at the time. In 1947, Paik had only one piece of

Schoenberg’s work. It took Paik two years to convince a record shop owner to
let him listen to what was probably the only Schoenberg record in Korea. Paik
had only two compositions by which to judge his "guru." Then one day in

Japan, in 1951, Paik heard a third piece on NHK Radio. Another of Paik’s great
influences was John Cage, whom he met in Germany. Meeting Cage, a student of

Schoenberg, was a turning point in Paik’s life. Paik’s piece Zen for Film
was definitely influenced by Cage’s 4’ 33", the silent piece. Cage was
devoted to sounds, but Paik was devoted to objects, yet Cage’s influence is
evident in all of Paik’s work. Joseph Beuys, like Cage, played an important
role in influencing the direction of Paik’s video work. Paik’s portraits of

Beuys constitute a significant body of work. They are more than a homage to

Beuys, they are an affirmation of video as a new sensorium that expands the
fleeting image on the television. As Paik’s education was furthered, he became
a key in Fluxus art. In 1961, he met Fluxus founder George Maciunas, which began
his participation in Fluxus concerts. The visual characteristics of Paik’s
concerts gained significance equal to that of the music with his one man show

Exposition of Music—Electronic Television in 1963. It included the skull of an
ox, 13 pianos, 13 television sets, a mannequin, and several sound producing
objects. Upon his return to Japan in 1963, he found that he could manipulate the
television screens with magnets. He began to conduct experiments with the help
of an electronics engineer, Shuya Abe. These experiments were the groundwork for

Participation TV, an active viewer piece. Abe also assisted Paik in the
production of Robot K-456. In 1965, Paik bought one of the first Sony video
recorders sold and began to create video art. Works such as Zen for Film and

Global Groove were the results of Paik’s newfound medium. In 1970, Paik and

Abe invented a video synthesizer, which made it possible to manipulate colors,
shapes, and movement sequences on videotapes and television programs. Paik has
been given the title of "Father of Video Art," as he was the first to use
video and television as a viable medium. The Opera Sextronique was one of

Paik’s "happenings" with Charlotte Moorman, the cellist. It included

Moorman wearing a battery powered bra with televisions covering her nipples, and
the Young Penis Symphony, consisting ten young men sticking their penises
through a paper curtain in time to the music. Opera Sextronique was one of

Paik’s attempts to integrate sex into his work. Paik once told Manfred Eichel
that "The five principles of media are: Sex, Violence, Greed, Vanity and

Deception." Paik used these principles heavily in his earliest works, thus the
concept of the Opera Sextronique. In the Opera for one act, Moorman was to
perform topless; however the performance was interrupted by police, and resulted
in the arrest of Moorman and Paik. The resulting trial was a damper on his"sex into musical performance" campaign. Global Groove is a video piece with
surreal visuals and neo-Dada ideas. Paik manipulates multicultural elements,
art-world figures, and pop iconography. He appropriates Pepsi commercials and
integrates them with images of contemporary performers such as John Cage, Merce

Cunningham, and the Living Theatre Dancers. He synthesizes images of Charlotte

Moorman’s Opera performances and distorts Richard Nixon’s face. Global

Groove is Paik’s first work with state-of-the-art editing techniques, and was
one of a series of innovative and influential videotapes. Global Groove allowed
him to create a vehicle for the short bits he had produced and to expand the
audience for video art. Global Groove had a profound influence on video,
television, and contemporary art. It has set a standard for a new generation of
video artists with its state-of-the-art technological innovations and
entertaining visuals. Something Pacific was Paik’s first permanent outdoor
installation that relates specifically to a site. This site includes the lobby
of the UCSD Media Center as well as the surrounding lawns. On the lawns, several
ruined TVs are embedded in the ground along with Buddha sculptures and a Sony

Watchman is paired with a miniature of Rodin’s Thinker. A lively interactive
installation of televisions is in the lobby. Here viewers are able to manipulate
the images from Paik’s videos and MTV broadcasts. This piece contrasts two
very different experiences—contemplation and reaction. The broken sets were
once removed up by a group of community service workers who thought they were
trash, but employees of the university were able to restore them to their
rightful places. In a series that started with Robot K-456, which walked,
talked, and defecated beans, Paik used electronics to create humanoid forms. The
members of the Family of Robot, instead of the mobile form of "robot," are
televisions stacked up in human forms. These new robots are architectural in
nature, animated by the videos, which play on each screen. Family of Robot:

High-tech Child consists of 13 modern televisions which flash synthesized images
at a rapid pace. Paik’s "child" represents the child of the future, and
the present, who has been raised with television as his/her main source of
entertainment and information. The "child" stands on an older model TV
illustrating the roots of television, and takes a classical Greek pose seen in
sculptures of young men symbolizing the artistic roots of the piece. High-tech

Child encompasses the elements of both humor and irony found in much of Paik’s
work. Megatron/Matrix is a mesmerizing multimedia installation consisting of a
total of 215 monitors. Megatron is a 150 monitor, billboard-sized wall of
flashing images forming a visual commotion. Matrix consists of 65 monitors and
adjoins Megatron. The video and animations include iconic images from both East
and West, pictures from the Olympic games in Seoul, scenes of Korean rituals,

David Bowie concert footage, and computer generated animations. Every now and
then the entire wall becomes the flag of Canada, Finland or Japan. All of the
monitors operate independently, but share multiple random combinations of video.

All of this is set to audio ranging from ritual chants to rock, and is
controlled by a complicated setup of disc players, computers, and digital
sequences. "It’s grand scale and technological prowess," says NMAA chief
curator Jaquelyn Serrver, "demonstrate Paik’s extraordinary capacity to move
video from the sphere of the ordinary to the limitless domain of the
imagination. He has transformed television into a form of artistic expression
particularly suited to our times." Paik’s last public performance in 1997 at
the Anthology Film Archive in New York City was his piece Coyote 3. The
performance starts with Paik seated at a piano with singer, Dina Emerson, and
dancer, Simone Forti, standing beside him. Emerson steps up to the microphone
and begins to imitate the sound of alarms and sirens, while a video projection
of Beuys growling and speaking is played. Paik accompanies the video on the
piano, playing broken melodies, sometimes singing along. These fragments of
music are as diverse as Paik’s influences. All the while Simone Forti is
dancing and singing. At the end Paik turns the piano over until it breaks apart.

The lights go out and a laser beam flashed across the stage while the three
performers smoke cigarettes. "There is a lot happening on stage and yet very
little, normal motions take on other significance, time has become fleeting and
geologic. The irrational is given as much importance as the rational," says

Jonathan Huffman, "Paik continues to push for new territories, continuing to
redefine situations and new technologies." Paik has made the world of
television and video art his own. His broad array of work encompasses several
disciplines from composing to satellite art. Paik’s varied interests have
helped make his art the first of its kind. Paik said of his work, "My
experimental TV is not always interesting, but not always uninteresting, like
nature, which is beautiful, not because it changes beautifully, but because it
changes." Paik is a visionary artist, he doesn’t confine himself to the
standards of the art world, but goes outside of them to find new applications of
art to technology. Television has become a humanistic tool in the hands of this
artist. His works are always about the sensual aspects of visual response and
the joys of watching an image that will disappear. Paik’s realization of the
limitless potential that lay within the average television set and his sense of
what he could do with it has gained him the distinction as the "Father of

Video Art."


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