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Nam-June Paik

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Nam-June Paik is considered to be the first video artist and one of the most famous Korean artists in the world. Being born in Seoul and grown up in Japan, after his parents fled from Korea, Nam-June Paik moved to Munich after all to get his education. Exactly in Germany the artists met several famous composers and conceptual artists like Wolf Vostell who became the main inspirations in Paik’s future works.

Often Nam-June Paik is called as the father and the creator of modern video art. Although he is also well-known as a talented composer and performer, exactly in the modern video part this artist played the major role. He introduced to the video world its new possibilities to use different video effects and with its help to explore an artistic expression in it. Nam-June Paik found out how with the help of video, music and other objects, one can express essential notions of nature and our life, and even of television. So it is not a coincidence after all that being a composer himself, playing piano, Nam-June Paik could combine all these skills in making his artistic masterpieces. However let’s come back to the life of Nam-June Paik before his success. What did influence him: past life or new acquaintances? As it was mentioned previously Nam-June Paik was born in Korea, where he actually studied playing piano and composition. During the war in Korea, Paik’s family moved first to Hong Kong and then to Japan, where Nam-June Paik got his degree in aesthetics. He graduated the University of Tokyo. After his graduating from Tokyo University, Nam-June Paik decided to move to Germany and finished his degree in philosophy too. Exactly in Germany after meeting several famous artists and composers, Nam-June Paik became a member of so called group of artists that persuaded neo-artistic notions. This group, called Fluxus, was established by John Cage, famous composer, whose music works were distinguished by using everyday noises and sounds in his masterpieces. This group’s work was aimed on finding some ordinary or not things in everyday life and trying to change or compose them in really extraordinary art works.

After programming television bumped into the world of art, Nam-June Paik was interested in experimenting with video images. His first successful video sculptures were shown in the exhibition Exposition of Music – Electronic Television. This work was very unique and unusual. Twelve television sets were shown and splendid in the space for exhibition, while electronic sets were used to create special, maybe sometimes unexpected video effects in the images that were received by the visitors of the exhibition. That was the moment when Nam-June Paik’s successful career as a video artist began. His video installations one by one became very famous all over the world as well as the artists himself. After his crazy behavior when during his piano performance in Cologne, Nam-June Paik threw himself at John Cage and other composer, Korean artist moved to the United States of America, New York. In the United States, Nam-June Paik started working with a famous cellist Charlotte Moorman and with her help he tried to combine everything: music, video effects and their cooperate performance. For example they created a famous work that is called TV Cello during which both of them put every television on the top of the other one sculpturing the actual form of the cello. In the moment when Charlotte Moorman drew her bow across the cello, the images of her and other musicians that were playing cellos too appeared on the screen. The installation looked more than just fantastic.

Later Nam-June Paik bought himself a special video system which could both record and edit videos in the way the artists needed. While living and working in New York, Nam-June Paik became a well-known artist, a celebrity even. In those times also Paik was trying through very sort of exotic installations to bring up both classical music and make a sex topic as a common thing. That was a “cello” performances period in Paik’s life. He even was considered to be the creator of such terms as information “superhighway” which he used in almost all his phrases back then. One of the brightest examples in Paik’s artistic criticism was his installation Electronic Superhighway which was shown in Smithsonian American Art Museum and was considered also as one of the most flawless artist’s works. With the help of this certain installation Paik was trying to pay viewers’ attention at how Americans are really obsessed over television, electronic bright things and video images. Even nowadays the Smithsonian American Art Museum has a full archive of Paik’s works. It consists of his research materials, different correspondence and documentation, his robots and moreover his video and music installations both with his piano masterpieces. This archive allowed fans of Paik’s artistic works again to enjoy the talent of this artist and his unique installations, and moreover maybe to find out more about Nam-June Paik’s life, like for instance what was an inspiration for him. This archive also includes artist’s writings about art, history, the technology that he used, all his projects, including all installations, personal games and paintings, and even his personal notebooks. Paik’s Archive in the Smithsonian American Art Museum is a real gift for nowadays art and its history. His life in New York and the atmosphere of the city, Nam-June Paik showed in his video work The Selling of New York which included several short video segments.

The artists was so talented and in the same time philosophically extraordinary that some of the art critics called Nam-June Paik as the Pollock with the features of Rembrandt’s style in the video art. However Paik wanted to see himself as just the celebrity. He made dozens of installation that were consisted of televisions put in he form of flags or musical instruments, or just some clothes even like the bra which was made with the help of two TVs and worn by his partner Charlotte. While this “television” bra with images was on Charlotte, she was playing her cello. The combination of music and simple as it seemed from the first sight installation became famous everywhere in the world. Nam-June Paik had reached his goal – he became a talented celebrity. Later other video artists and the ones, who were just researching it, would think of Paik’s works as about the other world where as it seemed Paik showed his viewers how almost everything was controlled by television. However some of them criticized Nam-June Paik and stated that his works are nothing but sins; that things that he was exploring in video art did not deserve its compliments.

Although despite all these critics, no one later would dare to say that Paik’s works did not deserve its popularity; no one would dare to rebel against his own sort of doctrines and his own revolution in video art. Nam-June Paik will always stay as the genius of video art. He is the legend of video art whose influence is still felt among other nowadays artists. Nam-June Paik’s works still inspire, still are very valuable among new generations of video artists.

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