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Nam June Paik

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

Zen Buddhism was an important and recurring reference point throughout Paik's artistic career.

"No, I am an artist. I am not a follower of Zen, but I react to Zen in the same way as I react to [the music of] Johann Sebastian Bach."

TV Buddha. (1974). 18th-century wooden sculpture, closed-circuit television camera and JVC Videosphere cathode-ray tube television.

The contrasts and parallels between East and West and between technology and spirituality.

With TV Garden 1974-77, Paik imagined a future landscape where technology is an integral part of the natural world. Placing TV sets alongside live plants, he creates and environment in which the seemingly distinct realms of electronics and nature coexist.

Zen for TV. (1963, reconstructed 1990). Manipulated 19-inch cathode-ray tube television

Influenced by German painter Karl Otto Götz, who inspired him to experiment with TVs as a visual medium. One TV set was damaged during transport and its screen showed only a horizontal line.

Uncle. (1986). TElevision casings, electronic components, speaker cone, cathode-ray tube, metal, enamel paint, ten cathode-ray tube television and video, colour

In1963 Paik had the idea of building a radio-controlled robot to use as a "mechanical performer". Electronic engineer Shuya Abe helped him to construct Robot K-456 1964. Paik wanted to make technology appear closer to humanity, rather than the product of complex and hidden scientific processes.

In 1986 he shoed "Family of Robot", a group of human-like figures built using radio cabinets and TV sets. Each succeeding generation was made with newer models. Paik often made robots out of working TVs, using their screens to present portraits of friends and historical figures.

TV Chair. (1968). Closed-circuit television camera, chair, acrylic and black and white cathode-ray tube television.

TV Chair proposes an absurd piece of furniture which seems to mock people's obsession with their own image.

Three Eggs. (1975-82). 3-5inch cathode-ray tube television, television casing closed-circuit television camera, tripod and two eggs

The CCTV system is used to construct a simple visual pun on illusion, reality and perception.

Many of Pauk's works demonstrate how TVs and CCTV cameras could be turned against themselves and distorted to reveal their hidden workings.

Nixon. (1965, reconstructed 2002). Two 20-inch cathode-ray tube televisions, magnetic coils, amplifiers, oscillator, capacitors, timer and video, black and white and colour, sound [Running time: 10min, 51sec]

Paik began to use circular magnetic coils to subvert broadcast material in 1965.

He often chose politicians as the subjects of his distortions, as a form of visual satire that worked on multiple levels: both against the figures of authority seen on the screen mass media images.

Untitled (Zen for Head III). (1962). India ink on cloth

performed at the Fluxus Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik at Wiesbaden in 1962

Paik wanted to use telecommunication technologies to distribute art and enable long-distance live collaborations.

Internet Dream. (1994). Ten 20-inch cathode-ray tube televisions, forty-two 13-inch cathode-ray tube televisions, custom-made video wall system, steel frame and three video channels, colour, sound.

The Mongolian Tent. (1993). Felt, bronze, oak, TV box, straw, electronic candle, bronze Buddha sculpture.

Paik and Beuys shared an interest in the exchanges between Europe and Asia and felt a strong connection to the Eurasian steppe.

Sistine Chapel. (1993). Video projectors, metal, wood, custom video switchers and four video channels, colour, sound.

It was Paik's own way of summarising his artistic career with video.


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