Few artists of our age used as many media as Nam June Paik—or, perhaps more accurately, worked “between” as many media. Paik was an artist who developed an intermedial approach, emphasizing not a single, pure medium but the dialectic between media.
In the exhibition titled Intermedia Theatre, Nam June Paik Art Center presents the arena where art media and life media collide with each other— where Paik would be the most dramatic actor. He draws a line on the floor with his head, smashes a violin in a single blow, and creates a beautiful sound by destroying a piano. The narratives he makes from music unfold with boring everyday life, shocking violence and accidents and, above all things, humor. The solution for his art and life is always found in intermedia, even in spite of the emergence of various unexpected technologies. He puts happening in video and video in laser.
In this theatre, Paik invades the safe distance the audience puts between itself and the stage; a safe appreciation is no longer possible. The artist brings a new variable into our life, whispering to us to try to mix whatever media we have and manipulate space and time. This is how a Paik-style catharsis turns out to be of great use for “spiritual maturity.”
Nam June Paik was a leading figure in the 1960s Fluxus movement. Fluxus was the root of his artistic sprit. In 1997, Paik planned a concert titled “A Celebration of Arts without Borders” in memory of the movement. Ben Patterson presented his new work, Message to Nam June Paik, in the NJP Art Center in 2010. The ‘living fluxus’ running through the borders between our life and arts is still in effect.
Participation TV (1963/1998)
Participation TV is one of the thirteen TV sets shown in Paik’s first solo exhibition in 1963. Here, only the viewer’s participation, that is, speaking sound into an attached microphone, can produce wildly moving patterns of lines of light on the TV screen. By using the technique of manipulating electronic circuits inside the TV, Paik showed the possibility of randomly changing the TV screen and communicating with it. He appreciated that this video art injected some new blood into happening and performance art. This meeting between new media, which had been regarded as non-art, and traditional forms of art initiated a bold experiment to blur the boundary of arts.
Elephant Cart (1999 – 2001)
Nam June Paik put many communication devices which he could remember, such as antique television sets, radios, telephones, gramophone speakers, on a big cart with the sitting Buddha pulled by an elephant. The cart and the elephant are connected with red electric wires and the televisions in the rear show elephants playing soccer.
It seems that the cart filled with televisions and radios disseminates information along the direction where the elephant goes. This assemblage of old objects and new media makes the viewer to reflect back on the past days and to reconsider the ways of today’s communication.
Three Elements (2000)
A laser beam moves constantly with a high speed and attracts our eyes to the infinite space and time. The various patterns of spaces created by lasers are dynamic, mysterious, and beautiful. Lasers show a new possibility of space and time, that is, non-linear time and space with which Paik experimented throughout his lifetime, using various media including music, television, and video.
Lasers are a high frequency lighting device used as a means of communication or information transmission that still has a great possibility of development. The laser works by Paik with which he experimented until his last moment could be called ‘post-video’ which lies in the extension of the theme that the artist pursued through video art, reorganizing space and time with the power of light and energy.
Nam June Paik Art Center
Nam June Paik (1932~2006) was a pioneer media artist who applied television, video, satellite television, laser, and other technology to his experimental and creative artwork. Promoting global communication and encounters through art, Paik has been dubbed “a leading artist who was a scientist, a philosopher, and an engineer” and “a true, gifted genius and a futurist with great foresight.” The Nam June Paik Art Center opened in October 2008 in honor of Paik’s spirit of openness, diversification, and harmony. As Paik mentioned, it was built to be his permanent home, researching and building on his ideals and artistic activities.
Opened to the public in 2008, the Nam June Paik Art Center aspires to revive the generosity, criticality and interdisciplinary nature characteristic of both Nam June Paik’s work and life. To fulfill the artist’s wish building ‘the house where the spirit of Nam June Paik lives on’, Nam June Paik Art Center develops creative and critical programs on the artist.
The enigmatic mathematical symbols used for the main logo image of Nam June Paik Art Center are derived from the numerical expression that Paik used in an article for the magazine De/collage No.3 in 1963 and re-used commemorating his 54th birthday. They represent Paik’s rich imagination and unique sense of humor. The logo image shows that when a question is reversed and transformed into a new question, endless transformations and recurrences take place: it incorporates the identity of Nam June Paik Art Center aiming to be an experimental space that doesn’t cease to question established answers.