Nam June Paik: Biography & Art

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Explore the life and work of pioneering video artist Nam June Paik. Learn about his early installation and performance artwork, international collaborations, and influence on contemporary digital and electronic art.

Father of Video Art

Try to imagine 'video' as a concept rather than a stream of images, as a flow of electronic bits rather than discrete pictures. Before artists came to recognize digital video as a medium, it was a concept locked inside the concrete device of the television. Nam June Paik (1932-2006) was a Korean-born artist recognized as a pioneer in the field electronic art. Paik made significant contributions to video art beginning in the 1960s, alongside other contemporary artists such as Steina and Woody Vasulkas, Bill Viola, and Gary Hill. Having emigrated to the United States in 1964, Paik was also affiliated with the Fluxus art movement, an international artist collective including John Cage, Yoko Ono, and Joseph Bueys.

Paik's video art remains relevant today as forming the foundations of digital and electronic art and inspiring such artists as Ryan Trecartin, Cory Arcangel, and Christian Marclay. Paik's influence has been so profound that he's often considered to be the father of video art.

In the 1970s, Paik became interested in community media. He believed that this would pave the way for democratized forms of television and social engagement for a networked age. For example, his 1974 proposal for the Rockefeller Institute, entitled 'Media Planning for the Postindustrial Society' forecast the influence that the Internet and networked technology would have on community and civic engagement. In short, you can probably tell that he was a bit of a prophet.

Installation and Performance Art

Paik's art falls into two general categories: installation art and performance art. Most of Paik's installation art related in some way to television sets, though the focus was always toward the video displayed on the set. Magnet TV (1965) emphasized the distinctions that usually remain unsaid between the intangible changes of the electronic signal itself and the tangible solidity of the television set. In other words, he wanted to show two contrasting elements that are also symbiotic. Kind of makes you look at that TV in your living room a little differently, doesn't it?

Magnet TV (1965)
nam june paik magnet tv

Another of Paik's pieces, Participation TV (1963), blurred the traditional distinctions between installation art and performance art. Gallery visitors were invited to speak or sing into a handheld microphone connected to an electronic television set. The system was rigged to interpret the sounds as video signals. Participation TV broke down distinctions gallery visitors tended to create between the static artwork and the passive viewer by letting them play with pieces and become part of the art itself.

Participation TV (1963)
nam june paik participation tv

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