Presentation text Roberto Amado, 1996

retirado do catálogo do 11º Videobrasil Fonte: Catálogo 11º Videobrasil

Communion between creation and creator

Nam June Paik created and established a new artistic expression — a videoart — of wich he is the main dissemenator

It could have been just another typical autumn day in New York, but it wasn’t. It was October 4, 1965, and Pope Paul VI was in town, and, at the moment was causing a nice traffic jam in front of St. Patricks Chapel. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. But, near there on 47th. Street, caught in the traffic, was a 33 year old Korean man who was taping the event with a strange machine, recently bought for $1,900 - money that the Rockfeller Foundation had a given him for research. The machine was actually the first model of a portable video camera, a Sony CV 2400, just recently released on the market, and the Korean was Nam June Paik. Only a couple hours later he would show his film at the celebrated Café à Go-Go on Bleecker St., in Greenwich Village, under the name Electronic Video Recorder - the film which today is considered as the birth of video art. And that is what made that October 4th.a very different day from the others.

Three decades have past and Paik is not the same anymore - he has gained weight along with frail health, he is past 60. He is not the same as the one who held obscure meetings in Yoko Ono’s loft along with John Cage, George Maciunas and Joseph Beuys and who engendered the basis for the anarquist, post-dadaist movement in the 60’s known as Fluxus. Paik is no longer that performatic destroyer who, at Wuppertal in 1963, his first individual exhibition, originated a new artistic concept, with his first video-sculpture - a bizarre combination of psyched-up pianos, noise-making machines and 13 old televisions. Joseph Beuys was there, he was entrusted with playing the piano. With an ax.

No, Paik is not the same anymore, He is much better. He still lives in New York and maintains that compassionate look in his eyes, whose brightness emanates from some obscure zone between dreams and delirium. It is difficult not to immediately associate him to video-art, of which he is father and supreme embodiment - all of which lends him a mythical aura, instilling admiration and esteem. Paik came from the Orient, grew up spiritually in Europe and found the technical means to work with video in the United States. He is a living symbol of the multimedia age and an unsurpassed personification of globalization. He blends oriental refinement and elegance with western electrifying stimulation and oscillates somewhere beyond ethereal cybernetics, zen. "I am Asian but know how to recognize the value of western culture. It has the dialectic power to constantly regenerate itself while Asia maintains a historic stagnation" says Paik, with his fluent but heavily accented English. He represents the fusion point between irony and aggressiveness, between cynicism and ideology. "I don’t see any reason to label artists according to their origin. I like European collectors because they like to buy my confused drawings and collages, while the Americans prefer my cleaner video-sculptures. I adore the confusing Siberian-Mongolian elements that run in my veins".

After leaving Korea, studying in Japan and graduating with a music degree in Germany, Paik had exciting perspectives in front of him, in view of the effervescent artistic agitation appearing in the late 50’s and early 60’s. He was an agitated musician full of objectives and aspirations already thinking about utilizing electrical images together with other artistic activities in which he could experiment. It was then that he met John Cage, with whom he would establish a productive exchange of impressive ideas. In a letter to Cage in 1959 he wrote about something concerning a "multimedia composition" in which he planned to use , among other things a "color slide projector, two or three movie screens, a stripper, a boxer, a live chicken, a six year old girl, a piano with lights, and of course, a television set". The empathy between the two gave Paik the necessary confidence to follow his own path. "I had chosen to live in Germany because I was told that there wasn’t any modern art in the US. But after meeting Jonh Cage I decided to move to New York". There he found a stimulating atmosphere rich with new ideas as well as access to new technologies in which he was always interested. He becomes a part of Fluxus and participates in his first exhibition using tv sets. He discovers a way to interfere with the video’s image using sound, starts to experiment with color tv’s, and produces his first individual exhibition using video-installation. His wife Shigeko Kubota summarizes his evolution: "When I met Paik he was a musician not a video-artist, which he began in the 60’s, he was a composer. He used to break pianos, and after that he began to break television sets. Later, he asked himself why he broke these things if he could get a much better effect using them to create different objects. That’s why he began to make sculptures and to use tv’s as sculptural material".

"My first friends in the US, those that made up the Fluxus movement were always ant-something. Anti-music, anti-art, anti-Stockhausen, anti-everything. But the new video generation was always pro-something, they wanted to build a new society using the video as a tool".

Whatever it was, it was there that Paik determined the amplitude of the resources he would use - producing video-art, creating video-sculptures and conceiving performances. The only one capable, although, by option, still operating in the underground, to make the seed of creativity and audacity of the 60’s germinate. In the 70’s Paik emerges from the basements into a new reality, and is once and for all seduced by video technology. He incorporates the technically most advanced resources into his work and uses them to increase the multiple aspects of his work. In 1974, exploring live camera video he creates one of his most expressive works: Buddha, captured electronically, he observes his won image on tv, zen. A visual koan, elemental paradox of life. Tv Buddha. In sequence, a series of creations - videos, sculptures, tv programs, performances - the consistency of which defines and imposes a new artistic language.

In the 70’s Paik gained universal recognition from the artistic community. He receives funds and cultural support, exhibits his work in the hollowed halls of European museums, and some years later is elected a member of the art academy in Berlin. In reality, to appreciate Paik is to appreciate video-art, to celebrate the universes existence and to incorporate its stock of resources in the world of art. Paik germinated, gave birth and raised his creation which 30 years later, now an adult, follows its own destiny - producing ideas, uniting people, molding and creating artists and clearing paths that can lead to the top.

(11th Videobrasil catalogue) ASSOCIAÇÃO CULTURAL VIDEOBRASIL, "11º Festival Internacional de Arte Eletrônica Videobrasil " [11th Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival]: from november 11 to november 17, 1996, p. 40-42, São Paulo, SP, 1996.

Essay Marco Maria Gazzano, 1996

Nam June Paik_ "Paik's 'Antennas' - Thirty years of electronic art in the work of a master"

Paik's 'Antennas

Thirty years of electronic art in the work of a master

A little more than thirty years have passed since the summer of 1963 when Nam June Paik inaugurated his Exposition of Music/Electronic Television at the Gallery Parnass in Wuppertal. Through the years this event has acquired the aura of a legend and is today considered to mark the birth of electronic art. This also applies to the later New York performance by the Korean artist. The minimization began with the title, which was reduced to an address, a date and a time (Café au Go Go, 152 Bleecker St., October 4th & 11th 1965, 9 p.m., in harmony with the rigorous tradition of radical modernism and in open defiance of the official rhetoric of "great art" and the media rites of the culture industry. In any case it was an act (similar to Wuppertal on the other hand, with what was then a completely unusual combination of "music" and "television") that consciously inaugurated a new expressive dimension, while also re-visiting a strong tradition: the universe of "self-video" and electronic creation wed to the progressive Utopias of the Modern movement as indicted by the historical European avant garde. These and other cultural roots (Zen, anarchism, naturism, etc.) reconsidered by Paik and his close friends in the light of the internationalist, trans-cultural, democratic-radical energy of the world-wide counter-culture of the 1960s. Paik's friends and admirers, who have since become his "poetic accomplices" and the protagonists of his videos, include John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Joseph Beuys, Julian Beck, Judith Malina, Charlotte Moorman, Allen Kaprow, Dick Higgins, Allan Ginsberg, George Maciunas, Jud Yalkut and Shigeko Kubota: all masters of the new "inter-media" dimension of art and of contemporary communication.

This the first Paikian "double movement" (Wuppertal '63/New York '65: historical European avant garde, North American neo-avant garde indebted to the encounter with an oriental artist) which within two years succeeded in reflecting both sides of the Atlantic in the act of founding a single new, expressive continent.

Although in Wuppertal the accent was on "distortion" of the TV signal, in New York the important element was the "performance", the desire to appropriate "direct" television and artistically re-imagine it. It was a double conceptual inspiration -- and also a very "musical" one -- that developed not only into the succeeding explorations conducted by Paik in regard to the medium, but which also marked the birth of abstract television, of the anti-naturalistic use of video. It was the year zero -- except for the 1950s intuitions of the "spatial movement for television" of the Italian-Argentinean, Lucio Fontana -- of that dislocation of the medium that led to new relocations which would later be known as "video art". Or better, as Paik himself stated on the occasion of his first one-man show in New York (Bonino Gallery, December 1965), not "video art" but -- with his eye already on the future -- "electronic art". Or rather "electronic television", in an effort to demonstrate how the television broadcast had not yet utilized all the extraordinary technical and expressive aspects of the medium which it controlled commercially.

It was an artistic practice -- a teckné -- that not only brought together again -- thanks to Paik and the other masters of the neo-avant garde -- technology, science, art, engineering and painting: the crystal and the elixir of the era of Da Vinci, but a teckné that, in these last years of the millennium, has passed through -- and re-drawn -- the plastic arts, cinema, mass communications and TV. It has suggested new ways of expressing and communicating by means of images and sounds in movement, of extending into new editing rhythms and new forms of audio-logo-visual intermingling, the most important hypotheses of the aesthetic and perceptive revolution that has marked the 20th century.

On the other hand, since the beginning, Paik's works have been presented explicitly as acts of non-separation: as desired interminglings of varied artistic languages and human and performative experiences; of color, images, sounds, languages, objects, memories and materials only apparently distinct from one other. This eclectic exploration of the world of art and communication is clearly reflected in the number of expressive "forms" employed by the artist: films, musical compositions, performances, video-sculptures, installations, experimental TV programs, videographies, "direct" television actions, paintings and essays.

In Paik's poetic universe -- which anticipated by several decades the colder, more formalistic universe offered by today's Internet -- there is no contradiction between the phantasmagorias of abstract lines and curves and the continual attraction of Zen philosophy; that distortion and noise which, in electronic and concrete music, become narration; the conscious "détournement" of the TV medium, as well as the classic forms of the plastic arts, with the continual invitation to concentration ("be conscious" before the TV) and to meditation ("let yourself go"). And, while he established a bridge between the heritage of the Orient and the technology of the West, Paik has since the 1960s elaborated a project that is more "inter-media" than simply "multi-media": thus forming the hypothesis that an intermingling (that became a reciprocal expressive extension) between the arts and languages "in a total art in the sense proposed by Richard Wagner"; or of the great Italian operas so dear to the Korean maestro.

A composer with experience in atonal music, which he studied first in Japan and then in Germany, and with knowledge of Cage and Cunningham, he matured -- even before concentrating his research on the expressive possibilities of the electronic image -- a profound dissatisfaction with the limits of the language, with the obligation of narration, with the formal rigidity of harmonic, linear editing.

Works par excellence of "editing" (but of what type?), Paik's creations show, for example, how -- by assimilating the classical rules of composition in order to be able to forget them, and of music and painting, in addition to TV and films -- it was surprisingly possible, in the new world of the electronic image, to compose music with video. That is, not only to establish original relationships between Sound and Image in an integrated "audio-vision", something that had always been sought but never actually practiced in films during their hundred year history, but also to consider the "images" (and not only those that are "visual") more as "musical notes" or "brush strokes of color" than as, according to the tradition of cinema and television editing, sequences assimilable to "written words".

Paik's most important videographies, including Global Groove, Guadalcanal Requiem, Tribute to John Cage and Good Morning, Mr. Orwell must, beyond their divers inspirations, first of all be perceived not as television "documentaries" or "essays" but as new electronic cinematographies in which the images, the shots of reality, the "trucages" and the colors are used as musical notes in an expositive structure (sometimes "narrative" and sometimes not) that is openly non-linear. The fact that Global Groove is the mimesis of the eclectic, planetary, television "flux" revised by Paik in the light of his eclectic inspirations (from Zen to Rock); the fact that Guadalcanal is a real musical Requiem besides being one of the most intense audio-visual works of this century against war; or the fact that Tribute to John Cage is not at all a "documentary", no matter how creative, about the music and performances of Cage, but an authentic audio-visual "composition" realized -- in ten "movements" that are easily identifiable -- in the manner in which Cage deals with his sound materials; or the fact that the Homages to Cunningham or to the Living Theater are exactly that because every time Paik makes an effort to restore -- with images, sounds and editing -- not only the "contents" of the poetry of these artists, but also the profound, formal, expressive structure of their works, this is another question.

On the other hand, Paik is skillful in the trap he sets for his observers: he has always enjoyed passing from "détournement" of the media to "détournement" of its meanings.

The "95% of novelty" that he already attributed to his work in 1965, does not in fact consist -- despite his own declarations -- in "painting" with the cathode tube and in substituting the canvas with the monitor. Nor is it, despite his magnificent provocations together with Charlotte Moorman (now collected in the Topless Cellist video), in substituting the cello for the monitor or the body of the artist. It is, if anything, in "treating" the image, in changing its sign and meaning, in "scratching it" with non-naturalistic lines and colors, (cf the first videos, Electronic Video Opera, Nos. 1 and 2, Magnet TV, Beatles Electroniques, Videotape Study No. 3, Electronic Yoga, etc.), or else in "encrusting it" with other images or with objects (for example in the series of robot videosculptures, for example); and in intervening directly on the actual specificness of television, in creatively modifying the indiscriminate "flux" of TV images, re-contextualizing them in unusual situations (videoinstallations) or in new "paginations" of television perception (Global Groove, Edited for TV, Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, Wrap Around the World, etc.: fundamental works that both in American and in Europe contributed to changing the language and communicative forms of television broadcast).

In these pyrotechnic explorations of the medium, what Nam June Paik has contributed to the history of the art and contemporary communications is the consciousness that in video, light -- which is naturally electronic -- is the raw material, the principal compositive material: and time is the manner of structuring it. And this is so for reasons both technical and perceptive which, nevertheless, only with the deviation performed by video artists beginning with Paik of the traditional reference codes of TV, have been expressively evaluated. This specificness makes video (and the computer) a writing of images only with light (photography) or from light (films), but finally in light. It is writing in pure energy: without limits, reflections or frames, as light actually is. Light evoked in this way makes it possible to accept certain recent bizarre definitions of Paik as "shaman" or "wizard". It is a fluid, corpuscular light like water (a metaphor of which can be found in the amusing installation TV Fish, with the fish in the aquarium swimming like video images) and milky like the light of the moon (a metaphor of video as a mirror of the light of the Sun that has been dear to Paik since the video Electronic Moon No. 2 of 1969 and the succeeding installation TV Moon. However, it is a moon that, in Paik's poetry, is also a feminine symbol and therefore similar to the perfection of the egg in TV Egg; or an extension of the pixel, the single luminous, electronic point, the principle and end of every light tale in Zen for TV.)

It is a light that -- since it is diffused and potentially without frames, and thus not reflected, as it was in films -- defines itself more in time than in space; and which in any case, in electronics, originates from the same identical band frequency as sounds. This accounts for the structural importance attributed by Paik, and by other pioneers such as Vasulkas, to Sound as an interface that is not only narrative but specifically "technological" of the Image; and to music -- the language of time -- as the form most consistent with the structure of video; and to video as the materialization of an intuitive, sensory approach that is not always consciously rational. For example, a leitmotif of Zen ascendancy (the interior calm reached after the storm of activity) that runs through many of Paik's videos is the sharp juxtaposition, in the same work, of frenetic accelerations in the rhythm of the images, sounds and colors with a sudden slowing down to the point of absolute silence accompanied by a de-saturation of the colors as far as black.

An untiring creator of metaphors, (all his installations and videosculptures are deviations and re-compositions which are at the same time symbols and meanings in addition to being spaces and perceptions) Paik is also a creator of icons, of visual signs that have become part of the collective imagery of our era, and in any case among the image-symbols of cinematography and of contemporary plastic arts. This is the case with Moorman with her TV Cello or the TV Bra; or of the images of TV Garden; or the almost religious images of TV Buddha, who looks eternally at himself, absorbed in a meditation without end, mirrored in a monitor that sends back to him, with the incessant changes of the seasons, the infinite passing of time.

A joyful, ironic interpreter exactly because he is profound and sometimes apocalyptic regarding our era, Paik, with his "antennas" looks on from a distance: he is an emblematic artist of the end of the millennium who for thirty years has continued to offer us new emotions, to amaze us by inviting us to think and to look beyond immediate appearances of phenomena, images and meanings. By occupying himself -- among other things -- with TV, he has not forgotten the profound value and the trasformational possibilities inherent in the interior energy that is inside each one of us; and which he, through his art, desires to reset in motion. In this way, the television "flux" can be transformed into a planetary "flux" of creative energy.

Marco Maria Gazzano

Director of the VideoArt Festival of Locarno in Switzerland

Italia 1954: lecturer in Theories and Techniques of Mass Communication at the University of Urbino

(11th Videobrasil catalogue) ASSOCIAÇÃO CULTURAL VIDEOBRASIL, "11th Videobrasil": 12th to 17th November 1996, pp.47-49, São Paulo, Brazil, 1996.