ARTISTS WE LOVE
NAM JUNE PAIK
Nam June Paik (July 20, 1932 – January 29, 2006) was a Korean American artist.
He worked with a variety of media and is considered to be the founder of video art.
Nam June Paik then began participating in the Neo-Dada art movement, known as Fluxus, which was inspired by the composer John Cage and his use of everyday sounds and noises in his music. He made his big debut at an exhibition known as Exposition of Music-Electronic Television, in which he scattered televisions everywhere and used magnets to alter or distort their images. In a 1960 piano performance in Cologne, he played Chopin, threw himself on the piano and rushed into the audience, attacking Cage and pianist David Tudor by cutting their clothes with scissors and dumping shampoo on their heads.
Cage suggested Paik look into Oriental music and Oriental religion. Paik went back to Tokyo, where he met Hideo Uchida, who had invented the transistor two years before the Americans did. He also met Shuya Abe, a poly-technician. During 1963 and 1964 these two engineers showed Paik how to interfere with the flow of electrons in color TV sets, work that led to the Abe-Paik video synthesizer, a key element in his future TV work.
In 1964, Paik moved to New York, and began working with classical cellist Charlotte Moorman, to combine his video, music, and performance. In the work TV Cello, the pair stacked televisions on top of one another, so that they formed the shape of an actual cello. When Moorman drew her bow across the “cello,” images of her and other cellists playing appeared on the screens.
In 1965, Sony introduced the Portapak (though it is said that Paik had a similar one before Sony released theirs[by whom?]). With this, Paik could both move and record things, for it was the first portable video and audio recorder.
From there, Paik became an international celebrity, known for his creative and entertaining works.
In a notorious 1967 incident, Moorman was arrested for going topless while performing in Paik’s Opera Sextronique. Two years later, in 1969, they performed TV Bra for Living Sculpture, in which Moorman wore a bra with small TV screens over her breasts.
Throughout this period it was his goal to bring music up to speed with art and literature, and make sex an acceptable theme. One of his Fluxus concept works (“Playable Pieces”) instructs the performer to “climb inside the vagina of a live female whale.” Of the “Playable Pieces,” the only one actually to have been performed was by Fluxus composer Joseph Byrd (“Cut your left forearm a distance of ten centimeters.”) in 1964 at UCLA’s New Music Workshop.
In 1971, he made a cello out of three television sets stacked up on top of each other and some cello strings. He got a famous cellist to play the “cello” as well.
In 1974 Nam June Paik used the term “super highway” in application to telecommunications, which gave rise to the opinion that he may have been the author of the phrase “Information Superhighway”. In fact, in his 1974 proposal “Media Planning for the Postindustrial Society – The 21st Century is now only 26 years away” to the Rockefeller Foundation he used a slightly different phrase, “electronic super highway”:
“The building of new electronic super highways will become an even huger enterprise. Assuming we connect New York with Los Angeles by means of an electronic telecommunication network that operates in strong transmission ranges, as well as with continental satellites, wave guides, bundled coaxial cable, and later also via laser beam fiber optics: the expenditure would be about the same as for a Moon landing, except that the benefits in term of by-products would be greater.”
Also in the 1970s, Paik imagined a global community of viewers for what he called a Video Common Market which would disseminate videos freely.
In another work, Something Pacific (1986), a statue of a sitting Buddha faces its image on a closed circuit television. (The piece is part of the Stuart Collection of public art at the University of California, San Diego.) Another piece, Positive Egg, displays a white egg on a black background. In a series of video monitors, increasing in size, the image on the screen becomes larger and larger, until the egg itself becomes an abstract, unrecognizable shape. In Video Fish,from 1975, a series of aquariums arranged in a horizontal line contain live fish swimming in front of an equal number of monitors which show video images of other fish.
Paik’s 1995 piece Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, on permanent display at the Lincoln Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is a stunning example of his cultural criticism. With this piece, Paik offers up his commentary about an American culture obsessed with television, the moving image, and bright shiny things.
Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii 1995-96. It is exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Paik was known for making robots out of television sets. These were constructed using pieces of wire and metal, but later Paik used parts from radio and television sets.
During the New Year’s Day celebration on January 1, 1984, he aired Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, a live link between WNET New York, Centre Pompidou Paris, and South Korea. With the participation of John Cage, Salvador Dalí, Laurie Anderson, Joseph Beuys, Merce Cunningham, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, George Plimpton, and other artists, Paik showed that George Orwell’s Big Brother had not arrived. In 1986, Paik created the work Bye Bye Kipling, a tape that mixed live events from Seoul, South Korea; Tokyo, Japan; and New York, USA. Two years later, in 1988 he further showed his love for his home with a piece called The more the better, a giant tower made entirely of 1003 monitors for the Olympic Games being held at Seoul. Despite his stroke, in 2000, he created a millennium satellite broadcast entitled Tiger is Alive and in 2004 designed the installation of monitors and video projections Global Groove 2004 for the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin.
From 1979 to 1996 Paik was professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.
LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON
Since the late 1960s Lynn Hershman Leeson has employed multiple personalities in photography, performance and digital media to explore ideas surrounding identity.
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