Nam June Paik – An Extraordinary Visual Artist

Nam June Paik was a Korean-American contemporary video artist of the early 20th century. Born on July 20, 1932 in Seoul to a textile entrepreneur father, Nam June began his musical training as a classical pianist at an early age. However, he had to shorten it due to the family’s migration to Japan via Hong Kong in 1950 during the Korean War (1950-53).

Nam June Paik graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1956, where she wrote her first thesis on the Austrian-American composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951). She then moved to Germany where she studied music history at the University of Munich. Here she also met composers John Cage (1912-92), Wolf Vostell (1932-98), and Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), who sparked Paik’s interest in electronic arts. Inspired by John Cage and his technique of using everyday sounds in music, Nam participated in Fluxus, a Neo-Dada art style. He debuted at the ‘Electronic Music-Television Exhibition’, an exhibition in which he used distorted images on televisions. Paik was considered the first artist to incorporate Audiovisual Art, merging video and audio records into one piece.

Paik moved to New York in 1964 and collaborated with American cellist and performance artist Charlotte Moorman (1933-91) to combine his electronic visual presentation with her music and performance. In her work ‘TV Cello’, they used stacked televisions to form a cello model, which featured an image of her playing the cello while drawing the bow across the screen. Paik and Moorman worked together on ‘Opera Sextronique’ (1967) and ‘TV Bra for Living Sculpture’ (1969). Nam June Paik is considered the father of the term ‘Information Superhighway’, which refers to digital communication systems and the Internet telecommunications network. In 1974, she even innovated the ‘Electronic Superhighway’ concept in her transcript titled ‘Media Planning for Post-Industrial Society’. The same year, an American media technologist, Judson Rosebush (b. 1947) compiled Paik’s early work into a book titled ‘Nam June Paik: Video ‘n’ Videology 1959-1973′, published by the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York. .

Nam June Paik’s famous works include ‘Something Peaceful’ (1986) with the faces of Buddha sitting on CCTV. ‘Positive Egg’ had a video of egg white on the monitor. She used the images of fish in aquariums on different screens for her album ‘Video Fish’ (1975). Her splendid work ‘Electronic Superhighway: Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii’ (1995) is an exemplary work of cultural criticism. The piece remains on display at the Lincoln Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, where she conveys her message about America’s obsession with television and moving frames. Paik also created robots using wire and metal and eventually radio and television parts.

In 1982 an exhibition of Paik’s work was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Here, she demonstrated a link between South Korea, New York, and Paris. In his work ‘Bye Bye Kipling’ (1986), Paik created a tape with a variety of live programs from South Korea, Japan and the United States. In 1988, he created ‘The More the Merrier’, a massive 1,003-monitor tower for the Seoul Olympics. He served as a professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Dusseldorf, during 1979-96. Paik suffered a stroke in 1996 that left him partially paralyzed. In 2001, the International Sculpture Center honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Nam June Paik died on January 29, 2006 in Florida.

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