Nam June Paik

Foto © Amedeo Benestante | Photo © Amedeo Benestante

Among the principal animators of Fluxus, Nam June Paik (Seoul, 1952 – Miami, 2006) moved with great facility through different fields of research, ranging from music to performance and video art, mingling different cultures and media and suggesting new possibilities of expression that countered the standardization of art and the languages of technology.

After graduating from Tokyo University with a thesis on the atonal music of Arnold Schoenberg, the Korean artist moved to Europe where he studied at the universities of Munich and Cologne and at Freiburg Conservatory. Paik came to electronic music by working with Herbert Eimert and Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, in the WDR’s Cologne studios from 1958 to 1965. Having met John Cage in 1958 and George Maciunas in 1961, and taking part in the Fluxus Internationale Festspiele Neuster Musik in Wiesbaden (1962), he moved in 1964 to New York and began his thirty-year collaboration with the cellist Charlotte Moormann. His meeting with Cage, in particular, brought about an innovative approach to the variable function the latter attributed to time and that would be embodied in Paik’s work through the concept of “random access”.
With his pioneering outlook, the artist adopted new technologies, modifying their conventional uses and adapting them to new expressive possibilities. In his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Parnass, Wuppertal, in 1965, Paik exhibited 13 TV: 13 distorted TV sets, distorting the images through the use of magnets. For the first time his work features modified TV sets and interactive installations which envisioned the participation of the public, being shown as open-ended, unpredictable and indeterminate works, in keeping with the ideas of Cage also in the continuous medial encroachment, in which sound and image merged one into the other, in a performative dimension.

In 1965, Paik created Café Gogo, a work recognized as the forerunner of subsequent video art, in which he used the first portable camera put on the market by Sony to film the traffic in New York during Pope Paul VI’s visit. Paik not only made use of existing technologies but also created new ones, including the Abe-Paik Synthesizer, built in 1970 with the engineer Shuya Abe as an audio and color video synthesizer that made it possible to create images that differed from those filmed from life. The artist began his subsequent satellite experiments with a live transmission with Joseph Beuys at Documenta 6 (Kassel, 1977): in 1984, with Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, on New Year’s Day he transmitted from the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York a live television satellite transmission involving Laurie Anderson, Joseph Beuys, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Salvador Dalì and Peter Gabriel.

His ties with Naples date from his exhibitions at Framart Studio in 1976 and Studio Morra (1977 and 1989). In 1995 he was awarded the Golden Lion with Hans Haacke at the Venice Biennale, where he exhibited in the German Pavilion.
The work in collection al Madre, TV Buddha, is a video installation consisting of an ancient gilded wood statue of Buddha that observes its own image projected on the screen of a CRT monitor. The work also interacts with the audience, filmed by a camera on the monitor as they approach the work, so becoming part of the work they are viewing. The video installation thus suggests a critical reflection on TV as a means for transforming individual’s behavior, bringing out the seductive and often subliminal dynamic of a technology of filming and distorting reality and its image as television, namely the creator of imagery capable of being superimposed on reality itself. And on the heels of the considerations of Cage’s “aleatory music”, Paik introduced in this work, as in other videos, performances and works of electronic music, diffused references to Zen Buddhist mysticism, in a ceaseless interchange between cultures, and therefore religions or spiritual expressions, and difierent expressive languages.