Nam June Paik was a Korean American artist and is widely considered to be a pioneer of media art, especially so in video art. He died in 2006 and the Tate Modern has put on a small free display to reflect on Paik’s achievements and innovation.
Paik started interrogating televisions and using them in his art from the early 1960s, just as they were coming into use. He recognised their potential and their influence immediately and was fascinated with how their influence could be manipulated and distorted – both by the person sending and the person receiving.
This is really evident in Nixon, a video installation that runs loops of Nixon’s most famous speeches, from his inaugural; address to his resignation speech. Attached to the screens are magnetic loops which swirl and warp the images, contorting Nixon’s face and message. Deeply subversive, yes, as it reflects on how state-controlled broadcasts can be manipulative and deceitful.
For me, what really impresses about this piece is that Paik conceived of it in 1965 but it took to 2002, and the development of technology and materials, to realise the piece in the form it is in today.
Paik kept working well into his later years and one of his later pieces, Untitled, 2003, is another jab at political manipulation of the media. A front page of the International Herald Tribune, which has Colin Powell, hands clasped in prayer as he meets the Turkish Foreign Minister, on it has been covered with graffiti, mocking the staging of the meeting and image for mass consumer purposes.
A big draw in the display is Bakelite Robot, 2002, the robotic sculpture comprised of vintage Bakelite radios yet running with specially created video footage. It’s a wonderfully animated piece that is both nostalgic and contemporary. And a reflection on how dynamic and constantly changing new media is. How quickly what we value becomes quaint and obsolete.
This is a great free display at Tate Modern that showcases Paik’s work and makes for a great complementary display alongside the Tate’s forthcoming The World Goes Pop exhibition that opens in the Autumn, which will look at how artists across the world responded to the mass consumerism in Pop Art.
Tate Modern, London
- Nam June Paik, Bakelite Robot 2002. One-channel video installation with 2 4” LCD monitors and 3 5.6” LCD monitors © Nam June Paik Estate
- Nam June Paik, Nixon 1965-2002. Video, two monitors, colour and sound.
- Untitled, 2003, by Nam June Paik. Acrylic paint and pastel on printed paper.