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Nam June Paik’s TV and Its Influence

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            Nam June Paik, a Korean-American artist, died in Miami, Florida, in January 2006 aged 74 years. As word about his death spread far and wide, many artists were affected by the loss of a man who has not only been hailed as the founder of video art, but is also remembered as a great artist who invented new ways of creating art that have been adopted by and become popular among the younger generation of artists (Norie Sato). Paik was not only a remarkable innovator but also stood out as a fitting icon of the 1960s. His works influenced the media, assembling of performance or pop art, multiple-channel video and installation art among other types of inputs. He created a new madness in contemporary art whose influence continues to be felt today (Habler). To commemorate the good works of this pioneer of video art as well as his noble ideas, many exhibitions have been opened in different locations worldwide; in such places as New York, California, Germany and the place of his birth, South Korea.

The popular eagerness among contemporary artists to remember Paik’s works comes from the profound impression that his works have created in those who have watched them. One artist who has been especially impressed by the works of Nam June Paik is the artist Norie Sato who was also his co-worker and who had the following to report to The International Examiner, “He was gentle, charming, ironic, witty. He was afraid of mice, very aware of his Asian and creative roots, generous, and very aware of American (and world) culture. In many ways, he was the “father” of all of us who make art with new media. The whole idea of video art was born and in many ways died with him because we are now in digital image making, which is not specifically video any more” (Sato).

            Nam June Paik was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1932. At a very tender age, he started his piano and composition lessons, but had to abandon them when during the Korean War, his family moved to Japan. In Japan, Paik attended University of Tokyo where he studied the History of Art. In the course of his studies at the university, Paik wrote a thesis on Arnold Schoenberg, an early twentieth century music composer who is also hailed as the key-bridge between classical and contemporary music. Paik was aware that the contemporary art world was steadily changing and he developed an interest in the new types of art. After his graduation from the University of Tokyo, Paik visited a number of European countries. It was during one such visit that Paik happened to attended one of the music festivals in Germany where he met John Cage.

Many of Paik’s works reflect the influence of Cage, who is perhaps the most substantial artist of the contemporary music world. One of Paik’s compositions, Hommage a John Cage, is an example of Paik’s attempt to adapt Cage’s technique and performance. Paik also became one of the first members of the Fluxus, a group of artists who challenged the established concepts of what constituted art and who were also highly influenced by Cage. Paik decided to stay in Germany and study the History of Music at Munich University. During his stay in Germany and also in the years that followed, Nam June Paik met and interacted with many great artists of the time and whose circles he maintained thereafter. Some of these artists included John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Shuya Abe and other members of the Fluxus who had already made great names with their genres. Nam June Paik’s works reflect the influence that these artists had on his artistic life, as well the international background which resulted in his interactive art (Ligget).

            The significance of Paik’s contribution to contemporary arts cannot however be understood without a clear understanding of contemporary art as well as its meaning. Art critics have defined contemporary art as a form of art that is created in the present and this includes every form of art created since the end of the nineteen-sixties (9visionart.com).  All forms of art on display after this period have displayed considerable differences from the traditional forms of art both in terms of components and presentation. Contemporary arts are made up various forms of art which include but are not limited to video art, installation, and digital art. Although many artists still produce works of art through traditional mediums such as sculpturing, drawing and painting, few boundaries exist between the traditional and contemporary forms of art. Artists have developed the tendency to combine every possible technique and object in one work in the attempt to present their ideas clearly as possible.

One form of art that has become popular among contemporary artists is video art. This simply refers to moving pictures that are accompanied by audio data and also video installation and which are somehow different from television shows or theatrical films (movies). The video has become a favorite tool among artists today, a trend that began during the nineteen-sixties and nineteen-seventies and continues to grow more popular with the rapid development of media and video recording technology. Artists have become very fond of recorded (or live) videos as one of the many tools that help to enhance the production of their works.  According to the Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art, contemporary artists are fond of video art because, “In visual art, Video art differs from film (including avant garde cinema) in its disregard for the conventions of traditional movie-making. While film producers juggle with storyline, screenplay, actors and dialogue – the basic elements of entertainment movies – the video artist is concerned with exploring the medium itself, or to use it to challenge the viewer’s ideas of space, time and form”(Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art).

            Although Nam June Paik and Andy Warhol are referred to as the founder of video art genre, Paik’s works stand out for the various ways in which he experimented with the medium to produce fascinating artistic objects; he is also remembered for the unique way in which he transformed the TV set from its place in the homes and used this object to bring a transformation to the gallery’s and museums. Paik’s innovative TV monitor productions into such artistic objects as the fish-tank, Buddha, robot figures, garden environments and three-quarter moon certainly influenced museum and art-gallery goers to develop a new love for what they liked because the art was becoming more interesting.

Paik combined mass media and art to create a new attraction to art lovers and TV viewers alike. In the month that Paik died, the Loren Cultural Service honored him by placing him together with other contemporary artists; an indication of how influential his type of art has been in the world of contemporary art (Habler; Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art). By introducing the TV set into the world of sculpturing, Paik made giant robots from old TV sets to represent friends, famous people and as part of ceremonies such as the bicentenary celebrations of the French Revolution in Paris, France. Nam June Paik taught others that old objects can be recycled and turned into attractive objects instead of destroying them. Paik has influenced many artists to turn broken objects into attractive sculptures (Baigorri).

            Nam June Paik’s TV has also exerted great influence on media art in the way that the artist used TV images to open a new forum of experimentation. Paik rejected traditional western art or traditional eastern art in terms of ideas and materials. In conjunction with engineer Shuya Abe and scientist Hido Uchida, Paik used magnets; wave generators, amplifiers and microphones to create relatively new signs by manipulating TV controls. He understood the functions of the television in a very unique way and from such kind of understanding, he developed a special ability to alter its properties and produce gripping components of video. Paik introduced television monitors into the world of art by using them as sculptural objects in a way that no artist or scientist had done before him. In the TV clock for example, Paik used a collection of eighteen television sets to reflect different hours of the day.

On each television set, he put clock hands to show the face of the clock divided into twelve daytime and nighttime hours respectively. Since time is a naturally occurring phenomenon, this ability to measure it using the TV became very unique to Paik as his own originally developed way of letting the world know that measuring of time was a science that could still be explored (Nam June Paik Studios). Previous artists had used electronically manipulated film but Paik combined TV sets and other ordinary objects and put them together as video installation to create such canonical works as the TV Garden. Paik discovered that the TV and video had artistic potentials that were capable of influencing the imagination of the audience. He influenced other young artists to develop an interest in and explore video art and many emerging artists have eagerly been adopting Paik’s cinematic and narrative focus as well as putting them into brilliant use (Ribas).

            Diversity was no doubt one of Nam June Paik’s themes in the production of his artistic works. In 1986, Paik produced a TV project which he gave the title, ‘Bye Bye Kipling’ (Figure 1), in which he linked New York with the eastern cities of Seoul and Tokyo. Paik had lived in different cultures in the course of his lifetime and this attempt o create a network of global communication became a sensation because the artist was able to bring out the computer as an important means of communication before even scientists could handle this function of the computer. By turning the various functions of a computer into art, Paik was able to create an ideal example of the internet. The internet has gradually changed the way people communicate globally. Global communication is capable of bringing into union, different nations and this will create a positive effect on the whole world at large. From Pak’s artistic creations, the TV is not always evil but can bring together different world’s (Electronic Arts Intermix; Nam June Paik Studios).

            Nam June Paik’s works have not only been recognized as inter-media but are considerably interactive. Through his works, Paik combined various sculptural objects, screen images, music and performance to bring mixed genres and mediums into desirable works of art. Inter-media was an idea or concept that was used by Fluxus artists, and referred to mixed genres or mediums. Paik used combinations of each type of works to question our beliefs and cultures to the nature of television. For instance, His “TV Buddha” (Figure 1) was displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and became the first video exhibition at a major New York museum. The Buddha became a combination of mediation and technology. Paik’s television installations are a mixture of painting and sculpture and brought together the TV itself as an object and the screen images which were combined as the artistic elements of the art piece. The moving images contain the flow of both time and space.

In 1971, Paik created a work of art that was an icon of curiosity and humor. In TV Bra, Cellist Charlotte Moorman, who Paik’s performance partner is, displayed standing before the audience to present the “TV Cello” (Figure 2) dressed in a very strange bra which Paik designed from three mini-TV sets. This use of technology in performance was undoubtedly very imaginative (Nam June Paik Studios) As Moorman drew the bow across the television sets, images of her playing video collages from other cellists, and live images from the performance are combined. In this work, Paik tried to show the nature of television as a communication tool and inform the world that video uses the medium of communication for specific purposes and does not stop at mere documentation of reality. Nam June Paik preferred to be non-commercial. In one of Paik’s interview with Joao Ribas he said, “Our life is half natural and half technological. Half-and-half is good. You cannot deny that high-tech is progress. We need it for jobs. Yet if you make only high-tech, you make war. So we must have a strong human element to keep modesty and natural life” (Ribas).

            Video art has been acting as a commentary on media preoccupation on our lives ever since it was born in the early nineteen-sixties. Through his vide art productions, Pak influenced public television stations such as WGBH (Boston), the KQED (San Francisco), and WNET (New York) to open their doors to artists who displayed an experimental interest in the TV as a medium of entertainment. Artists and technicians would now work together by using all available technological equipment to bring a new experience of the TV. Paik frequently worked with residential artists at WGBH, to organize some important works such as the 60 minute broadcast program about John Cage (Baigorri).


            The artist Nam June Paik has exerted immeasurable influence in the field of contemporary art and all media artists as well as those working in performance and installation have something that they have inherited from Paik.  Paik has had greater influence than any other artist through his imaginations and subsequent realization that video and television have a great artistic potential. Through his videotapes, installations, performances and other form of art productions, Paik helped to re-shape the artistic perception of moving image in contemporary art (Hanhard). Since video art was derived from media and continues to hold a dominant position in communication, its criticism over the position has been compelling. This is because through Paik’s development of electronic techniques in which he combined video images and sculptural objects the viewer’s perception of reality and televised events and his experience are provoked to review the role of television on contemporary. In all his works, Paik also showed that there was the possibility of future technology in art. Paik’s true legacy is indeed embedded in his ability to further the link between visual art and modern technology (Baigorri; Ribas; \).

Works Cited

Baigorri, Laura. “PAIK TV: Homage to a Visionary Mongol.” 10th September, 2006. May 13,   2010. http://www.zemos98.org/spip.php?article384

Electronic Arts Intermix. “Nam June Paik: Bye Bye Kipling.” 1986. May 13, 2010.             http://www.eai.org/title.htm?id=1933

Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art. “Video Art: History, Styles of Contemporary       Filmmaking, Often Used in Installations: Famous Video Artists, Wolf Vostell, Andy   Warhol, Nam June Paik, Bill Viola.” http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/video-art.htm

Habler, John. “Video Artist Dies: Details at Eleven. Na June Paik: 1932-2006.” 2006.    May 13, 2010. http://www.haberarts.com/paik.htm

Hanhard, John G. “The Worlds of Nam June Paik. February 11- April 26, 2000. May 13,           2010. http://pastexhibitions.guggenheim.org/paik/index.html

Ligget, Lucy. The Museum of Broadcast Communications. “PAIK, NAM JUNE: US Video     Artist.” 2010. May 13, 2010.         http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=paiknamjun

Nam June Paik Studios. Apr. 19, 2010. May 13, 2010. http://www.paikstudios.com/

Ribas, Joao. CN.ARTINFO.COM. “Emerging Artists: The Impact of Paik on Today’s Video    Art.” 2010. May 13, 2010. http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/11728/emerging-            artists-theimpact -of-paik-on-today’s-video-art/?page=>

Sato, Norie. “Nam June Paik: The Father of New Media Art”. International Examiner     Arts, Volume 33 No.24. December 19, 2006. May 12, 2010.  http://www.iexaminer.org/issue/volume-33-no-24/nam-june-paik-the-father-of-new-    media-art/

9VisionsArt.com. Contemporary Art Gallery. “Contemporary Art.” 2010. May 14, 2010.


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