The Force Behind Video Artistry

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The Force Behind Video Artistry

"Someday artists will work with capacitors, resistors and semi conductors as they work today with brushes, violins and junk," says Paik Nam-june, the video artist, in his "Nam-june Paik: A Diary." Widely known as the father of video art, Mr. Paik was the first artist to use television in art and combine technology and pop culture. He was recently featured in various local newspapers for being the first Korean artist mentioned in The Oxford Dictionary of 20th Century Art. Mr Paik's work has been exhibited in numerous biennales and international expositions with different themes and in a variety of contexts. Some managed to faithfully reflect the artist's notion of Fluxus, an eclectic approach to merging all media, which was based on a resistance to mainstream art and its tendency to commodify it. Others simply identified him as an artist who was part of the '70s avant-garde art scene, placing emphasis on his relationships with John Cage and Joseph Beuys, two artists Mr. Paik remained in close contact with until their deaths.

His name has been frequently mentioned in the local media in many different contexts. Apart from the coverage that emphasized the artist's origins with a nationalistic ardor, several blockbuster shows featuring Mr. Paik that have unclear curatorial intentions have been organized by Korean galleries within the last few years.

Only four months since the artist's full-scaled retrospective ended at Seoul's Hoam Art Gallery and even less time since "Mediacity Seoul 2000," was displayed, another exhibition is on view.

Titled "Nam-june Paik: Over The Century," the exhibition in Galerie Bhak in Cheongdam-dong, features around 50 pieces that the artist produced between 1963 and 2000. Many of these are owned by the gallery as part of its private collection. And though this is an ambitious attempt by a small commercial gallery to organize a retrospective of a master, the exhibit fails to show consistency, presenting a linear array of the artist's works.

The gallery argues that this "omnibus-styled" exhibition offers a more private glimpse into the world of Paik Nam-june, showing a particular concern with his relationship with music. In fact, the exhibition focuses on works such as "Techno Boy," "TV Piano" and "TV Cello," which reflect the artist's early inspiration from sound.

Mr. Paik's fondness for music is mostly known through his relationship with Mr. Cage, the American composer whose work involved extensive research about ideas from the Buddhist sect known as zen, or in Korean, seon. Originally inspired by the work of Arnold Schonberg, Mr. Paik studied art history, philosophy and musical composition while at the University of Tokyo. In 1959, he performed "Homage to John Cage" at a Fluxus concert in Gallery 22 in Dusseldorf and created a sensation by smashing his expensive Ibach pianos. This concert marked a big moment in Mr. Paik's career as it allowed him to experiment with sound and performance art at the same time. It was the precursor to his television series.

His first official exhibition as a visual artist took place at the Gallery Parnass in Wuppertal in March 1963. Titled "Electronic Television and Exposition of Music," Mr. Paik manipulated images on TV screens with images he had previously created. The work was a critique on the social invasion of mass media with its capitalistic nature, but it soon led him to self-taught techniques in robotics and further research on other electronics-based mediums. His output, which has spanned decades, continued even after a debilitating stroke in 1996. With the help of assistants, Mr. Paik has been producing a new body of work, including his recent laser project, which was exhibited in the glass pavilion at Rodin Gallery in central Seoul last November. The show travelled to Guggenheim Museum in New York in early 2000 and the Bilbao Guggenheim in Spain.

The show in Galerie Bhak also exhibits Mr. Paik's later works, such as "Flower Child" and "Self-portrait." Reflecting the artist's strong attachment to nature, these pieces created after his stroke illustrate Mr. Paik's humanistic approach to his subjects. "TV Candle" is a twist on the public worship of the television culture, whereas "Korean TV," a small piece of wood with two square engravings, presents the artist's poetic view of the electronic medium. Presenting a bold yet subtle image, "Korean TV" is an example of the artist's Dada style visual pun.

Critic Lee Yong-woo comments on the public hype surrounding Mr. Paik's work and the spread of video art in the local art scene. "Art and its creator eventually become a part of art history, and get misinterpreted in the process of being presented to the public. The intention of the artist gets separated from his political philosophy as his name becomes known," Mr. Lee notes, while adding that it is ironic that an artist like Paik, whose work is fundamentally anti-aesthetic, has managed to become a part of the mainstream.

For more information, contact the Galerie Bhak on 02-544-8481 (English service available).

by Park Soo-mee

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