until 9th February 2020 @ Tate Modern, London, UK
FAR EAST, SOUTH ASIA AND AUSTRALASIA
Nam June Paik’s work blends artistic vision with an intense interest in the technological advances of the 20th century. The work also draws on a fascination with Zen Buddhism, meditation and popular culture, while the artist collaborated productively with many other creative figures, including performance artist and sometime topless cellist Charlotte Moorman, artist Joseph Beuys, George Maciunas (founder of experimental artists’ group Fluxus) and composer John Cage.
Born in Seoul, Paik fled with his family during the Korean war, and he subsequently travelled widely, living in Hong Kong, Japan, Germany and the USA. His rather nomadic lifestyle led him to challenge the status quo, particularly concerning ideas pertaining to borders and cultural differences, amid a world of burgeoning technological connections. An early progenitor of video art, he is credited with coining the phrase “electronic superhighway”. Why hadn’t I heard of this man?
TV Garden (below, 1974-77), is a strangely beautiful, futuristic landscape populated with television sets and living plants. Paik believed that the future would involve the cohabitation of the natural world with the technological, and the Tate’s literature tells us that this complied with his Buddhist faith, which consider everything to be “interdependent and closely connected”. The TV sets display a bewilderingly entrancing eclectic, frenetic and kinetic melange of high and low culture, spanning Beethoven to Japanese TV ads.
Paik’s interest in TVs and other forms of audio-visual technology dated back much further than the above work, from at least the early 1960s. The Tate exhibition displays work in which TV broadcasts have been disturbed and distorted through the use of magnets, in an effort to “reveal their manipulative power”. This primitive robot (below, 1964) tries to cut through the arcane knowledge and complexity underpinning much technology, to create a primitive humanoid, that could walk, play sounds “and even urinate”.
In my art reviews I like to include portraits and self-portraits, where possible. The one shown below, dating from 2005, is probably the most eccentric self-portrait I’ve yet featured.
One of Paik’s last works, this is a self-portrait crudely painted with permanent oil marker onto a TV screen, which is transmitting images of and by the artist.
It works much better than it sounds as though it should!
TV sculpture, signed in English, Korean and Chinese.
There is so much more to be seen in this exhibition, which is highly imaginative, hugely intriguing and undeniably unusual. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re in London!