[ index | 1932 | VIDEOvideo synthesizers ]

Nam June Paik: various articles:

cf also: CATHODE KARMA (Gene Youngblood, EXPANDED CINEMA, 1970)

NAM JUNE PAIK was born in 1932 in Seoul, Korea. He studied music history, art history and philosophy at the University of Tokyo, where he graduated with a dissertation on Arnold Schönberg. Paik then went to Germany in 1956 to continue the study of music history. In Germany, where he met Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, he began making electronic music. He then got involved with the neo-dada art movement, Fluxus. Long considered the pioneer of video art, Paik uses it to express the complexities of contemporary culture. Inspired by both the spirit of Zen and the ever-changing dynamics of American society, the artist has created a unique and expressive style of art that creatively fuses new technologies.

- an anthology of noise & electronic music, SUB ROSA SR190


Cage recalls Etude for Pianoforte's first performance (1959?) vividly. "It is hard to describe why his performances are so terrifying", he said not long ago, "you get the feeling very clearly that anything can happen, even physically dangerous things". In the Etude for Pianoforte, whose premiere was in Mary Baumeister's studio, Paik played some Chopin on the piano, broke off, weeping, and got up and threw himself on the innards of another, eviscerated piano that lay scattered on the floor, then picked up a wickedly long pair of scissors and leaped down where Cage, the pianist David Tudor and Karlheinz Stockhausen were sitting in the front row. He removed Cage's suit jacket and started to slash away his shirt with the scissors. After doing so, he poured a bottle of shampoo over Cage's head and also over David Tudor's. (As Stockhausen edged nervously away, Paik shouted "Not for you!").

- Tomkins, The New Yorker, May 5 1975.


- from: Johanna Branson Gill: VIDEO: STATE OF THE ART:

NAM JUNE PAIK is probably the most famous and certainly one of the most interesting members of the movement; his work is a collage of all three divisions of video activity. He was born in Korea and was educated in Japan and Germany, where he studied philosophy and music. By his own estimate, he has given over 100 performances, which reflect his interest in avant-garde music (John Cage is a major influence) and the Fluxus movement. His first exhibition of television was in Germany in 1963, in which he showed television sets whose off-the-air images were distorted. By 1965, Paik had moved to New York and was having exhibitions here. His work takes many forms – video performances and video installations as well as video tapes – and shows his interest in process rather than product; the new often has elements carried forward from the old.

Paik has always been on the outer fringes of the movement technically. In 1965, he bought one of Sony's first portable video tape recorders and displayed tapes the same night. He was the co-developer, with SHUYA ABE, of one of the first video synthesizers. Several people were working on synthesizers in 1968 and 1969 and each machine reflects the desires of its builder. They have in common the ability to produce dazzling color patterns and forms, moving and shifting through time. The Paik-Abe synthesizer is the perfect tool for Paik's work – it takes black-and-white camera images and mixes and colorizes them, producing dense, often layered, brilliantly colored fragments.

Paik's basic style is one that has become familiar in this century, a collage of juxtaposed pieces of information wrenched out of their original contexts. His taped work constantly reshuffles bits and pieces of material from all over the world – a Korean drummer in action, Japanese Pepsi commercials, go-go dancers, tapes of his own performances with cellist Charlotte Moorman.

He has spoken of how we live in an age of information overkill; his fast-paced, disjunct, percussive tapes heighten and intensify this barrage of image and sound. The effect is jolting. Paik makes the viewer stop and think, and he does this not only in his performances and tapes: his production of enigmatic, deadpan aphorisms is second only to Andy Warhol’s in the world of art. "I would rather be corrupted than repeat the sublime," he said with a chuckle during a televised interview with Russell Connor and Calvin Tompkins.


The Rockefeller Foundation artist-in-residence program [at WGBH-TV in Boston] also brought Nam June Paik and filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek to broadcast television. Nam June began his year at WGBH in 1968-1969, doing a short segment for "The Medium Is the Medium". He and Shuya Abe built their first video synthesizer there and first displayed its imagery in a four-hour-long blockbuster program called "Video Commune", broadcast during the summer of 1970. The sound track was all of the Beatles' recorded music; people were invited off the streets to help contribute material (often their faces) for the synthesizer to process. Viewers at home watched four hours of dense, layered, slowly shifting, brilliantly colored images, some of which were recognizable and some not.

- Johanna Branson Gill: VIDEO: STATE OF THE ART, 1976


Nam June Paik's first videotape was shot with portable Sony equipment on October 4, 1965 and exhibited the same day at the Café-au-Go-Go, in an exhibition called "Electronic Video Recorder". Outer and Inner Space predates that moment, since it was shot in August, and in the film you see Warhol deliberately experimenting with some of the techniques specific to the video medium which other artists would explore more fully only in the 1970's. They are playing with the electronic breakdown of the video image while the tape is playing, they distort the scanning of the image, they manipulate the vertical roll on the TV set so the image goes flipping by very quickly, they pause the tape so the image freezes on the TV, and they even turn off the tape at the end so you get a little bit of a broadcast tv image. A number of video artists like Paik, Al Robbins, and Joan Jonas explored these specific electronic aspects of the video medium in later works in the seventies – like Jonas's tape Vertical Roll from 1972 – but this film was made seven years before that.

- Callie Angell: Doubling the Screen: Andy Warhol's Outer and Inner Space

[ index | 1965 | 1968 | 1970video synthesizer ]