A prophetic “Electronic Highway” that blends aesthetics, music and philosophy
In 1969, Korean artist Nam June Paik (1932-2006) created one of the first video synthesizers in the world. Quite visionarily, he wrote that it would allow people to “model the TV screen like a canvas with Leonardo’s precision, Picasso’s freedom, Renoir’s use of colour, Mondrian’s depth, Pollock’s violence and Jasper Johns’s lyrical sensitivity”. Paik’s art certainly reveals these aspirations, as well as a desire to introduce a new expressive idiom that rests upon emerging technologies. Until February 9, Tate Modern dedicates to him a great exhibition. Paik was one of the first who imagined an “electronic highway”, that is to say a global communication network that is capable of overcoming geographical limits.
In his works the musical influences of Stockhausen, Cage and the suggestions of zen thought
The exhibition gathers 200 works that retrace the artist’s compositions and performances since the onset of his career, highlighting synergies with other artists as well as his synesthetic conception of the work of art. K. Stockhausen and J. Cage exerted a remarkable influence on his “musical” approach, the same way J. Beuys influenced his interest in Zen thought. In 1962, Paik’s artistic research and expressive freedom led him to join the Fluxus movement; nevertheless, his artistic idiom has always been original and personal. He made his debut in 1963 with Exposition of music – electronic television (featured at Tate): pianos and musical instruments are exhibited as examples of the first televisions the artist manipulated. Zen influences can be detected in TV Buddha (1974) and One Candle (1989). Paik also explored the relationship between nature and technology; in TV Garden (1954-2002, placed at the entrance of the exhibition), he scattered dozens of televisions in a garden to make them look as if they were growing among the lush foliage. The robotic evolution of society is represented in Robot K-456, a remotecontrolled robot he created using scraps that can utter J.F. Kennedy’s Speeches. The exhibition also features two satellite videos dating from the ‘80s, where pop culture icons such as D. Bowie and L. Reed appear: the aesthetic MTV of the time. The exhibition culminates with Sistine Chapel. This installation was originally exhibited at the German Pavilion of Venice Biennale in 1993 (it won the Golden Lion), and is now recreated for the first time since then: 40 video projectors transmit graphic images that overlap with images of well-known people such as Joseph Beuys and Janis Joplin. Music, philosophy, and aesthetics blend admirably in the work of this cultured artist, whose art also suggests that we carry out a more critical and mature examination of the overabundant images of contemporary social artists.
Nam June Paik