Nam June Paik

Nam June Paik is born in 1932 in Seoul, Korea. At the outbreak of the Korean War, the family flees to Tokyo via Hong Kong. In Tokyo, Paik studies Western aesthetics, musicology, and art history from 1952 to 1956, finishing his studies with a thesis on Arnold Schönberg. After 1956 he takes up musicology again at the University of Munich and studies composition with Wolfgang Fortner at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg. Together with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Paik then works at the studio for electronic music of the West German public radio station (WDR) in Cologne.

Meeting John Cage in Darmstadt in 1958, turns into a decisive experience for Paik and leads to his participating in Hommage à John Cage. For the first time, Paik realizes his concept of »Action Music«, grounded in the new media and their interdisciplinary possibilities. Action Music also includes arbitrarily produced sounds and noises, the sounds of instruments, and sequences of silence. His deliberately provocative actions, for instance the demolishing of instruments, evoke vivid reactions from the audience.

In 1962 Paik participates in the Fluxus Festival of avant-garde music in Wiesbaden. He now also includes television in his Actions that want to visualize the foundations of electronic music. Next to Beuys and Maciunas, he becomes one of the central figures of the Fluxus movement. Solo exhibitions follow, presenting Paik’s modified instruments and devices that are built to respond to impact from outside, that is, to the participation of the audience. He also increasingly works with televisions (Galerie Parnass, Wuppertal, 1963). Together with electrical engineer Shuya Abe, Paik – while in Japan (1963/64) – engages in experiments to develop technically produced paintings and builds his first robot.

In 1964 Paik moves to New York where he lives until 1967. In New York he meets cellist Charlotte Moorman with whom he works for several years, creating musical pieces and video installations. He presents these installations in unconventional concerts and Performances in the United States and Germany. For Moorman he also develops numerous objects (TV-Büstenhalter, TV-Cello). Both participate in the Happening entitled 24 Stunden with Joseph Beuys, Wolf Vostell and others, at the Galerie Parnass. During this event Paik comments on television as a medium that has become central to his work: »TV has attacked us all our lives, now we fight back. Now we make our own TV.« Paik’s installation TV-Cross, his first assembling of monitors into a sculpture, is exhibited at the Stockholm Museum of Technology. With electronically edited videotapes (Electronic Opera No. 1, 1969) Paik draws on abstract film of the 1920s. Using technologies such as the video-synthesizer, computers, and digital forms of editing – for example, electromagnetic manipulations of color TVs – allows him to realize his ideas in the late 1960s. These experiments lead to the work series Closed Circuits (Video-Buddha, since 1970), thematizing the confrontation of culture and technology.

In 1979 Paik accepts a professorship at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he teaches until 1996. A first retrospective of his work takes place in 1982 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The dimensions of Paik’s works keep increasing and he develops a first architectonic video-installation, V-yramid, assembled in the form of a pyramid. Moreover, his well-known installation for the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, consisting of 384 monitors, as well as hisTricolor Video, keep evolving the idea of the multi-TV installation.

In Actions of the 1980s Paik uses satellite technology to simultaneously transmit images worldwide und to engage participating artists and musicians in different locations. Examples are: Good Morning, Mr. Orwell (1984), a work that included Joseph Beuys, Ben Vautier, Yves Montand, Laurie Anderson, Peter Gabriel, Charlotte Moorman, and others as participants, and the later work The more the better, a media tower assembled from 1003 monitors and supplied by television stations from twelve countries, erected in 1988 for the Olympic Games in Seoul. Yet at the same time, Paik returns to his earlier work with Shuya Abe and, in 1986, uses video monitors and video disc players in his work Family of Robot.

In 1987 Paik becomes a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, living in New York and Wiesbaden. In 1975 Paik participates at the Biennale in São Paulo, and in 1977 and 1987 he is part of the Documenta 6 and 8 (Beuys-Voice). In the travelling exhibit »Video Time – Video Space« (1991/92) in Düsseldorf, Basel, Zurich, and Vienna, he again works with multi-TV installations that are assembled into spatial constellations. In 1993 he presents video works (Sixtinische Kapelle,Liegender Buddha) in the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In 1997 he participates in the large art exhibition »Die Epoche der Moderne – Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert« in Berlin.

Nam June Paik dies at the age of 73 in Miami, Florida, in 2006.

Selected Literature

Nam June Paik, Fluxus und Videoskulptur: Ausst.-Kat. Stiftung Wilhelm-Lehmbruck-Museum, hg. v. Christoph Brockhaus, Duisburg 2002

Nam June Paik. Fluxus, Video: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Bremen, hg. v. Wulf Herzogenrath, Bremen 1999

Esser, E. (Hg.): Nam June Paik und Charlotte Moormann, MedienkunstVisionen, CD-Rom, Köln 1997

Bußmann, K. u. Matzner, F. (Hg.): Nam June Paik. Eine Database, Stuttgart 1993

Decker, Edith (Hg.): Nam June Paik. Niederschriften eines Kulturnomaden, Köln 1992

Nam June Paik. Video Time – Video Space: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Basel u.a., hg. v. T. Kellein u. T. Stoos, Stuttgart 1991

Decker, Edith: Paik, Video, Köln 1988

Nam June Paik, Fluxus, Video: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. Wulf Herzogenrath, München 1983

Nam June Paik, Werke 1946 — 1976, Musik, Fluxus, Video: Ausst.-Kat. Kölnischer Kunstverein, Köln 1976

Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger

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