Paik's career started with his association with Fluxus, most notably his performances, in the early 60’s. In 1964, Paik collaborated with classical cellist Charlotte Moorman to create TV Cello, where they stacked televisions on top of one another to form the shape of an actual cello. When Moorman drew her bow across the "cello," images of both her playing and images of other cellists playing appeared on the screens. This became the major aspect of Paik’s personal work - the TV cabinet as a sculptural element and the screen’s plastic qualities pushed to the limit. One of the ways he achieved this was by creating his own video synthesizer that enabled him to create the kind of generated images he wanted.
The title for this exhibition, Media Alchemy of Nam June Paik, refers to an essay titled Video Alchemy by Lucio Cabuttiv. Paik truly was an alchemist combining various artistic forms and media technologies into groundbreaking bodies of work. Paik’s transformations explore the sculptural and screen elements of the television. His works were more centered on the television and its image than just the image on the screen. He never wanted us to forget “the box.” His sculptural/video approach would be one of the strong influences on future generations of artists creating video installations.
This exhibition will look at Paik’s way of encountering the body. Many of Paik’s most compelling works especially since the 90’s were the body/robot works. Some of these works were portraits of specific individuals, like Joseph Beuys and John Cage (not part of the Cmay Gallery exhibit), while others are more literary (like Gulliver) and some more methodical (like Internet Dweller). Whichever form his works take they tend to be larger than human size and exaggerated.
Most of the works in the Cmay Gallery exhibit incorporate old TV cabinets, whereas Gulliver also uses Sony Watchman miniature televisions. By the time Paik was doing this work, these old-style TV cabinets were already out of date. The old TV cabinets make a very important conceptual statement of televisions’ roots in radio. It is the (Marshall) McLuhan transformative moment in media from radio to TV that Paik keeps alive. Internet Dweller focuses on another thread of McLuhan – telecommunications – with each one of the series of 12 based on an Internet address of a friend of Paik’s. This is another thread of technological progression from the mail to the telephone to the Internet.
Beall Center for Art and Technology