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Nam June Paik Video Innovations
Nam June Paik was born in Seoul, Korea on July 20, 1932. He was the fifth and youngest child of a textile merchant. In 1947, at the age of 14, he studied piano and composition with two of Korea's foremost composers. The family moved to Tokyo, Japan in 1950 to avoid the havoc of the Korean War. Paik studied music, history, art history, and philosophy at the University of Tokyo from 1953 to 1956. He did his graduate dissertation on Schoenberg.
In 1956, he moved to Germany to pursue his interest in avant-garde music. He studied music history under Thrasybulos Georgiades at the University of Munich and composition under Wolfgang Fortner at the Hochschule fűr Musik. He also attended classes under Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luigi Nono, David Tudor, and John Cage. Paik lived in Cologne for the next five years and then returned to Japan for a short time to conduct experiments with electromagnets and color TV sets. In 1964, Paik moved to New York and still resides there today.
While he lived in Korea, Paik had become familiar with the work of Schoenberg. Paik was interested in Schoenberg above all others because of his radical compositions.
They reflected the social atmosphere of Seoul at the time. In 1947, Paik had only one piece of Schoenberg’s work. It took Paik two years to convince a record shop owner to let him listen to what was probably the only Schoenberg record in Korea. Paik had only two compositions by which to judge his “guru.” Then one day in Japan, in 1951, Paik heard a third piece on NHK Radio.
Another of Paik’s great influences was John Cage, whom he met in Germany. Meeting Cage, a student of Schoenberg, was a turning point in Paik’s life. Paik’s piece Zen for Film was definitely influenced by Cage’s 4’ 33”, the silent piece. Cage was devoted to sounds, but Paik was devoted to objects, yet Cage’s influence is evident in all of Paik’s work.
Joseph Beuys, like Cage, played an important role in influencing the direction of Paik’s video work. Paik’s portraits of Beuys constitute a significant body of work. They are more than a homage to Beuys, they are an affirmation of video as a new sensorium that expands the fleeting image on the television.
As Paik’s education was furthered, he became a key in Fluxus art. In 1961, he met Fluxus founder George Maciunas, which began his participation in Fluxus concerts. The visual characteristics of Paik’s concerts gained significance equal to that of the music with his one man show Exposition of Music—Electronic Television in 1963. It included the skull of an ox, 13 pianos, 13 television sets, a mannequin, and several sound producing objects.
Upon his return to Japan in 1963, he found that he could manipulate the television screens with magnets. He began to conduct experiments with the help of an electronics engineer, Shuya Abe. These experiments were the groundwork for Participation TV, an active viewer piece. Abe also assisted Paik in the production of Robot K-456.
In 1965, Paik bought one of the first Sony video recorders sold and began to create video art. Works such as Zen for Film and Global Groove were the results of Paik’s newfound medium. In 1970, Paik and Abe invented a video synthesizer, which made it possible to manipulate colors, shapes, and movement sequences on videotapes and television programs. Paik has been given the title of “Father of Video Art,” as he was the first to use video and television as a viable medium.
The Opera Sextronique was one of Paik’s “happenings” with Charlotte Moorman, the cellist. It included Moorman wearing a battery powered bra with televisions covering her nipples, and the Young Penis Symphony, consisting ten young men sticking their penises through a paper curtain in time to the music. Opera Sextronique was one of Paik’s attempts to integrate sex into his work. Paik once told Manfred Eichel that “The five principles of media are: Sex, Violence, Greed, Vanity and Deception.” Paik used these principles heavily in his earliest works, thus the concept of the Opera Sextronique. In the Opera for one act, Moorman was to perform topless; however the performance was interrupted by police, and resulted in the arrest of Moorman and Paik. The resulting trial was a damper on his “sex into musical performance” campaign.
Global Groove is a video piece with surreal visuals and neo-Dada ideas. Paik manipulates multicultural elements, art-world figures, and pop iconography. He appropriates Pepsi commercials and integrates them with images of contemporary performers such as John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and the Living Theatre Dancers. He synthesizes images of Charlotte Moorman’s Opera performances and distorts Richard Nixon’s face. Global Groove is Paik’s first work with state-of-the-art editing techniques, and was one of a series of innovative and influential videotapes. Global Groove allowed him to create a vehicle for the short bits he had produced and to expand the audience for video art. Global Groove had a profound influence on video, television, and contemporary art. It has set a standard for a new generation of video artists with its state-of-the-art technological innovations and entertaining visuals.
Something Pacific was Paik’s first permanent outdoor installation that relates specifically to a site. This site includes the lobby of the UCSD Media Center as well as the surrounding lawns. On the
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