Paik’s legacy lives on in ‘final home’

By Lee Woo-young
  • Published : Jul 22, 2012 - 20:00
  • Updated : Jul 22, 2012 - 20:52
Pioneer of media art remembered as artist who thought one step ahead of the rest

It has been six years since Paik Nam June, a pioneer of video art, died from a stroke on Jan. 29, 2006.

But the artist, who his wife Shigeko Kubota describes as “the pioneer who opened the door to 21st century art for young generations,” has never really left us. 

His influence still prevails in the art world, inspiring many artists. 
Paik Nam June

“Now many people appreciate his work. His art looked like low art because he broke TVs and turned them into junk in the old days. But they are actually high art, spiritually. I appreciate young people thanking Nam June’s philosophy and thinking,” said his wife Kubota at the press meeting on Paik’s 80th birthday special exhibition at the Nam June Paik Art Center in Gyeonggi Province held Thursday.

“Finally Nam June found a home 80 years after he was born in Seoul. Nam June’s life was like a gypsy’s life, travelling around the world, but now he has found a home,” said Kubota referring to the art center, which is holding an exhibition commemorating his life and work from July 20 to Jan. 20, 2013.

The retrospective will bring his major work from foreign museums. It also features works by artists who share Park’s artistic goals.

“The exhibition sheds light on Paik’s philosophy that combines man, machine and nature,” said the exhibition curator Ahn Kyung-hwa.

Tilted “Nostalgia is an Extended Feedback,” based on his 1992 writing, the exhibition focuses on Paik’s philosophy that crosses the boundaries of man, machine and nature, and showcases works reflecting that philosophy.

“He was a sharp and focused thinker, always thinking ahead,” said Jochen Saueracker, Paik’s assistant for 25 years.

Paik used technology not as a mere instrument for art-making, but to navigate his thinking, using TV monitors and projectors.

The first floor of the exhibition features human-like forms that reflect his vision for communication between man, machine and nature, such as “The Rehabilitation of Genghis Kahn,” an assemblage of a TV set, a bicycle and other materials made into a human-like form, “Marco Polo,” a human-form robot riding a car, and “Happy Hoppi,” a depiction of a Native American wearing a glowing Indian headdress and holding a bow and arrow on a scooter.

The second floor displays Paik’s robot series, starting with “Robot K-456,” which was first displayed in New York in 1964.

Paik also brought back to life renowned historical figures ranging from Western figures such as Hippocrates, Descartes, Shubert, and Danton to Korea’s historical figures such as Queen Seondeok and noted Confucian scholar and politician Lee Yul-gok.

“Through a special performance featuring the ‘Robot-456,’ Paik tried to say machines cannot overcome life and death, which govern the lives of human beings. He made it walk around New York City freely with motor control and interact with the audience. At the end, he had it break upon being hit by a car,” said Ahn.

The exhibition offers an opportunity to see works of other artists who have been inspired by Paik or who share the pioneering artist’s vision.

Paik’s close friends Catherine Ikam and Louis Fleri’s installation “Fragments of an Archetype” reinterprets Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” using TV monitors reassembled into a huge installation work divided into sixteen parts showing parts of the human body.

Olafur Eliasson invites the audience to become part of the work, reflecting efforts Paik made toward interaction between artwork and audience. The audience will find their reflections divided into several pieces and find them becoming big or small according to their distance from the projector.

The 80th birthday special exhibition includes lectures and education programs throughout the exhibition period.
“Apple Tree” by Paik Nam June (Nam June Paik Art Center)
“Merce by Merce” by Paik Nam June will be played on the Seoul Square Media Canvas. (Nam June Paik Art Center)
Viewers will get to see a video synthesizer demonstration from July 24 to Dec. 15.
Foreign and Korean art experts will hold a symposium on Oct. 12 to discuss Paik’s vision and his art within the framework of cybernetics, which formed the core thinking of Paik’s works.

Paik’s works are also on view on a grand scale at the Seoul Square Media Canvas until Aug. 20, which will play Paik’s videos on its big screen including “Hand and Face,” “Video Synthesizer” and “Merce by Merce by Paik.”

Admission is 4,000 won for adults and 2,000 won for students.

The exhibition is closed every second and fourth Monday of the month.

For more information, visit njpartcenter.kr or call (031) 201-8571.

By Lee Woo-young  (wylee@heraldcorp.com)