Monday, 21 March 2011

Nam June Paik – FACT/Tate Liverpool

There are two things which I associate with Nam June Paik's work:

  1. My university days (there where one or two Paikette's at my uni)
  2. 80 Movies

I know the above remarks seem to be quite glib, what I am attempting to suggest the influence that Nam June Paik has had on generations of artists and creative types. Being one the early adopters of video technology recognising the potential of the emerging technologies of video and television as both medium and subject. Whose work was collected to form a blockbusting retrospective across two of the major galleries of Liverpool, they being FACT and the Tate.

Anyway before I go on a quick admission I am writing most of this from memory so forgive me as I go astray.

The first group of works on the ground floor of the Tate (again forgive me for not taking note of the titles of works) the first work to hit you is the video wall throwing various images from across the visual world. I have a strange reaction to this piece and it's to do with the way once avant-grade ideas worm there way through into society at large, I don't know about you but most of my experiences of video walls have been through the aforementioned 80's movies and in quite a few cheap nightclubs. Is this a case of art following life following art which forms part of the reading June Paik's work.

Another piece is video documentation of a performance between him and Jospeh Bueys, the performance itself is a Neo-Dada/Fluxus combination of guttural word sounds and piano. What strikes me the most is the editing, through which Bueys is subjected to, enabled perhaps to perform illogical and magical movements across the space and even to be able to move within time. I would like to think that this is recognition of videos ability not only to flatly record the events of a performance but to become an active part of the performance allowing us the audience to share an experience akin to witnessing the original performance. I can't recall many contemporary performers who use video in such away, of course that may be my ignorance but it does make me wonder why use of video editing doesn't seem so common in contemporary performance.

One of the pieces which strikes me here is a collection of Life Magazines in which June Paik has annotated with moments from his life. In this collision between the personal and public there arises the question of how we measure our life against a backdrop of mass media and media filtered events. For me at least it lead to me thinking about how I relate and reference my life against mass-media, how music, television and film have become part of what defines us at certain points in our life. Of course our relationship with mass-media and the images produced through said mass media is a fundamental part of June Paik's practice. In works like the TV Buddha where statues of Buddha's or lit candles are caught in a close circuit of television viewing, often while looking at these pieces I noticed my attention natural drifted towards the image on the screen. Now if this was years of cultural conditioning, through years of watching TV I have learnt to give more attention to screens rather than looking at the real thing just like those Buddha's.

A more direct use of mass-media was a number of works produced for television starting with Global Groove in 1973 ( ) which lead to the satellite broadcasted Good Moring Mr Orwell in 1984. Both feature a collection of mini films produced by various artists and musicians including Merce Cunningham, John Cage and even the Thompson Twins. For Paik this was a celebration of the possibility of mass-media to bring apparently disparate ideas and people together and to provide a way to disseminate these ideas to a previously unimaginable audience. Throughout Paik's work the reflection that technology is a positive creative force as long as there is a human element present, at the heart of it.

As I imaged many people have done, I have to wonder what he would have made of YouTube would he have seen it as an embracing of a utopian ideal? A continuation of the ideas brought fore by pieces like Good Moring Mr Orwell .I guess we have to wait to see what artists whose careers are concurrent with the development of the internet bring, for one such example we could look at the work Ryan Trecartin whose practice address the effect of a life spent on the internet has on language and culture ( )

Who know where it will lead but technology will always be a medium and subject for artists to explore and use thanks to the work of Nam June Paik.



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