THE FUTURE IS NOW
Traversing Micro And Macro Histories: A Companion To Nam June Paik’s Timeline On Explore.namjunepaik.sg
AuthorJennifer K.Y. Lam
Jennifer K.Y. Lam is an Assistant Curator at National Gallery Singapore, where she actively contributes to the continuous research on art in Singapore and the ink medium. Her areas of curatorial interest include migration and traditions, knowledge structures and production, and uncovering alternative histories and relationships.
Nam June Paik is widely known as a pioneer of video and new media art, often affectionately described as the “father” of this art genre.1 His innovations and ideas were largely unheard of in his time, yet are instinctively familiar to us now in 2021.2 Depending on our viewpoint, these two statements are both equivocal. Journalists and art historians labelled Paik a “forerunner”—a characterisation given to fellow artists who broke also new ground in the video medium during his time, such as Bill Viola, Vito Acconci and Joan Jonas.3
During an interview in 1968, Paik suggested a portable “picture phone” would be available for consumers in the future, bringing to mind the “phonotelephote” gadget from Jules Verne’s 1889 literary fantasy In the Year 2889.4 Paik’s proposed “picture phone” can also be seen as an enhanced version of The Bell System Picturephone that was first developed in Bell Labs and premiered at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.5 While it’s uncertain whether Paik read Verne’s novels or visited the New York World’s Fair, we do know that he wrote a letter in 1966 to computer scientist Max Mathews, the then director of Bell Labs, to pursue an opportunity to use their computing technology for his experiments in electronic art.6 This led to the creation of Digital Experiment at Bell Labs (fig. 1), a computer-generated monochromatic silent animation, and several other paper-based artworks.7 Another futuristic point Paik expressed was recorded in an essay written for his first retrospective exhibition in Asia at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in 1984: “the satellite may be able to make every day a sight-seeing trip.”8 36 years later, virtual vacations through VR-technology or a simple click on our computers have enhanced the shift in our lives towards a digital space.9
Such examples of micro and macro histories are brought together within this essay to offer a varied perspectives for understanding Paik’s biography and accomplishments. While macrohistory seeks out patterns in significant developments recorded over extended periods of time, microhistory concentrates on specific accounts from particular moments that often uncover elements that may have gone unnoticed or ignored. In his article “Playing with Scales: The Global, and the Micro, the Macro and the Nano,” Dutch economic historian Jan de Vries offers a sharp view on the different research methods used by contemporary historians across different fields.10 He poignantly reminds us that there is never a fixed perspective in any history. It can be concise, in-depth, tidy or seemingly chaotic. To offer a holistic view, it can also be all of these at the same time, which is the approach taken for the biographical timeline developed for Nam June Paik: The Future Is Now at National Gallery Singapore.
“The Many-Worlds of Nam June Paik: A Collated Chronology” is a web-based timeline that follows Paik’s life and work across almost eight decades from 1932 to 2006.11 It contains over 300 entries gathered from major exhibition catalogues, digital libraries and databases, academic journals and publications.12 Archival and artwork materials from the exhibition are also featured as entries in this timeline. Together, these entries are grouped into six categories: key moments in Paik’s life, his performances, the artworks he created, his solo and group exhibitions, his published writings and selected world events that influenced him, either overtly or tangentially. These events range from military conflicts, texts by writers such as George Orwell and Arthur C. Clarke, the launch of the world’s first artificial satellite and the premieres of sci-fi dramas Star Trek (1966) and Star Wars (1977). Some provided Paik with direct inspiration while others had a more oblique impact, as the following cases demonstrate.
Case One: Nam June Paik—A Global Citizen
Shortly after meeting George Maciunas, founder of the Fluxus movement, around 1961–1962, Paik began collaborating with fellow Fluxus member Wolf Vostell on the magazine dé-coll/age.13 For the fourth issue, Paik made a drawing titled Fluxus Island in Décollage Ocean (1962–1963).14At first glance, the drawing acts as an imaginary map that represents the Fluxus art movement at that point in time. Key concepts, sites, people and events that have real and imagined connections to the movement were placed on the map. When examined closely however, the drawing reveals an additional layer of context: iconic locations in East and West Germany as well as the border of North and South Korea marked out. These separated geographies and sociopolitical conditions were legacies of World War II and the Cold War that had directly impacted Paik. The Paik family fled to Hong Kong in 1949 at the onset of the Korean War following the North-South divide in 1948, eventually settling down in Japan in 1950. The same year they left Korea, the division of Germany was formalised. Paik went on to study in West Germany at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich in 1956. By blending personal and public histories of these events alongside invented details and satirical commentary, Fluxus Island in Décollage Ocean shows Paik’s sensitivity and sanguinity to the world around him, as well as his place within that world, which transcends established definitions of identity and geopolitics. As a form of microhistory, the chart encourages readers to acknowledge the agency of the individual in grappling with global change.15 Equipped with this heightened consciousness, Paik chose a romantic rather than pessimistic attitude when navigating a fragmented world and its advancing technologies.16
Case Two: Nam June Paik—An Optimistic Futurist
Sometime around the summer of 1963, Paik left Germany to re-join his family in Japan. His “one meeting-one life friend,” electronic engineer Shuya Abe, recalled their first encounter at a café in Tokyo’s Akihabara district in September 1963.17 Their mutual acquaintance, Hideo Uchida, an electronics expert and owner of a store dedicated to vintage radio equipment named Uchida Radio, had introduced them and arranged the appointment.18 Abe’s account reveals Paik’s early fascination and experiments with video signal manipulation, his dismantling and repurposing of audio-visual aids and equipment, and his building of a life-sized remote-controlled robot.19 After months of trial-and-error, the first robot prototype was completed in early 1964. Named after a Mozart piano concerto, Paik wanted Robot K-456 (fig. 2) to look tattered and comical while being functional at the same time.20 This union of perfect imperfection suggests to us that Paik was more captivated by the humanistic quality of machines and their contingent possibilities.21 Such optimism persisted throughout his artistic career and resonated with contemporary minds of the time, as in Arthur C. Clarke’s exploration of the limitless probabilities in the future of humanity and Marshall McLuhan’s conception of a “global village.”22 While it is unclear whether Paik had read Clarke’s writing and how extensively he drew from McLuhan’s theories, their shared enthusiasm for technological progress diverges from novelist George Orwell’s dystopic fiction in which technology is used for oppressive surveillance and control.23 Paik responded clearly to this with the 1984 debut of Good Morning Mr. Orwell, which discounted Orwell’s frightful future of a humanity tyrannised by mass media and machines.24 His subsequent proposition of linking East and West through his presentation of Bye Bye Kipling (1986) draws out his acute understanding and broad knowledge of world histories and politics, combined with his active role as an agent of change and peace during precarious times.25 Nevertheless, the labels “optimistic futurist” and “global citizen” were far from enough for Paik. He expressed a strong sense of urgency towards the question of his relevance and the impact of his writing to an unknown audience: “Instead of becoming just another ‘successful’ artist in commercial galleries and concert halls, I want to devote the next year to academic and fundamental research, which would change art and the status of art in society radically for coming decades, for which support from the current art business is not to be expected.”26
Case Three: Nam June Paik—“My Crazy Uncle”27
In interviews with curators from Tate Modern and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Paik’s nephew and executor of his estate, Ken Hakuta, fondly calls Paik his “crazy uncle” and remembers him as someone that stood out within the family and their communities.28 Paik was alarmed when their Zenith television set was turned off and abruptly snapped to darkness, took away Hakuta’s piano to “smash up” at a performance, and often dismantled his toys to recreate strange things.29 These actions were surely unconventional for a family elder. Paik also encouraged Hakuta to watch television.30 This affinity for popular culture begs several questions: Was Paik an avid TV viewer? Could there be a relationship between Paik’s ideas and those popularised by the mass media?
To a certain extent, Paik’s Video Commune (Beatles beginning to end) (1970), a four-hour improvised colour montage of distorted television imagery accompanied by Beatles songs, anticipated the format of the MTV network launched in 1981.31 And what of his earliest robot prototype Robot K-456? Abe has stressed that the function and conception was fully Paik’s own, help was simply provided for the labour and mechanical aspects.32 Where did Paik get this idea to create a remote-controlled life-sized robot from scratch? According to Abe, Paik was aware that companies in Japan were making robots at that time, or were experimenting to create such androids.33 Glancing at the history of Japanese popular culture in the early 1960s, we find the television debut of the anime Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy).34Based on a manga series published in 1952, Astro Boy features an android with a boy’s body and emotions, who accompanies his inventor-father on a series of adventures. Could Astro Boy have been a catalyst for Paik’s robot prototype and later Robot Opera (1965)?35 Alternatively, Paik is likely to have read reports on the latest inventions and engineering trials could have circulated in Japanese local periodicals of the time, and may have influenced him. With recorded responses to the writings of Orwell, McLuhan and Norbert Weiner, we can also be certain that Paik had an extensive interest in all branches of science fiction and philosophy, whether they were grounded in reality or imagination.36 Their combination of being thought-provoking, entertaining and imaginative all at once suggests that a popular television series like Star Trek and film like Star Wars may have caught Paik’s attention as well. Should this be the case, it leads us back to Paik’s statement in “My Projects in 1966–67,” as noted in Case Two, which expressed his desire to have a profound effect on his immediate communities and environments, especially the art world.37
The Many-Worlds of Nam June Paik: A Collated Chronology
These three cases offer varied ways in which histories are written and presented to us, just as Jan de Vries reminded us of the persistent fluidity of history at the start of this essay. Integrating nuggets of micro and macro histories, these cases show how events from diverse domains came together to inform Nam June Paik’s worldview through both proven and hypothetical means. In this way, “The Many-Worlds of Nam June Paik” offers a fresh contrast to existing biographies of Paik, which either offer a succinct list of selected personal and artistic events38 or attempt to consolidate all his artistic achievements within a shorter time span.39 One exception is “Nam June Paik: Fast-Forward” written by Michelle Yun, curator and director of Asia Society New York.40 Yun’s composition attempts to map Paik’s personal and artistic activities against the broader trajectories of technology and modern culture. In doing so, she reinforces his relevance and relationship with the wider world. Her succinct account has a similar intention but different scope to the timeline here. Without the constraints of the printed page, this web-based chronology is free to be as comprehensive as possible. It aims to provide a thorough record of Paik’s achievements as well as selected world events, designed as an interactive amalgamation that combines randomness and order. Readers are encouraged to zoom in and out, filter and sort through the data, to detect the direct and subtle relationships between macro and micro events, with the agency to recreate these connections in a comparable way to Paik’s method of “random access.”41 While this methodology appears all-embracing, there are still components from the many worlds of Paik that were unable to be included. The role of his multilingual capability, an in-depth analysis into his published and private writings, and a deeper enquiry into his Asian connections are key areas that require further scholarly attention.
When we delve into Paik’s art and biography, we encounter his writings and expressions in English, German, French, Korean, Japanese and Classical Chinese. Senior experts on Paik, Edith Decker-Philips and Sook-Kyung Lee, both note his interchangeable facility with these languages and have identified it as a reason why this area of study was neglected in past scholarship, especially during his lifetime.42 Managing such a study will be quite a feat, as it requires expertise in art history, cultural history, linguistics and psychology, alongside an invested academic focus on Paik.43 Cross-disciplinary research in art history and multilingualism are budding disciplines in the 21st century.44 As a global citizen and optimistic futurist who travelled and lived across three continents as early as the 1960s, the impact of Paik’s multilingual nature was two-fold. Communication in multiple languages was firstly a pragmatic tool for him to converse and work with artists from a wide range of backgrounds.45 It also empowered him to traverse between these worlds and indirectly disseminate unfamiliar values “to a West that remained ignorant of the East.”46 This strategic use of multiple languages also offers “a hidden layer of meaning for us to discover.”47
One of these discoveries is the reminder that the heritage of Chinese, Japanese and Korean philosophies, principles and written language systems are shared.48 East Asian historian Charles W. Holcombe unravels this esoteric narrative and presents a comparative history of the three cultures and their modern national manifestations in his book A History of East Asia: From the Origins of Civilization to the 21st Century (2011). Traditional writing systems in Japan and Korea both adopted the logographic characters of Classical Chinese, which are similar to the Traditional Chinese characters we know today. Japanese Kanji and Korean Hanja both denote 漢字 (pinyin or hànzì). People absorbed this writing system alongside the values and ideas of philosophers Laozi and Confucius, which subsequently influenced legal, political, governance and social structures. These ideas and influences were slowly intertwined with Buddhism when it was introduced to East Asia from India via the Silk Road. Traditional Korea was Sino-centric, enacted through its literacy and education policies: Korean Hangul was seen as a native and “low” language for peasants and the working-class, while Korean Hanja was regarded as the “high” language of elites.49 The scholar Hyaeweol Choi points out that through increased contact with foreign countries towards the end of the 19th century, Korea began to focus on modernisation through westernisation, and associated the English language with privilege and prestige.50 This context for Korean society affirms that “the Paik family was wealthy, modern, and Western-oriented.”51 It also offers additional insights to Paik’s aptitude as a multilinguist and intermediary between different cultures and disciplines, and across social strata.
Paik made persistent efforts to connect the disparate worlds that he moved between through his art and his writings—the latter being another rich seam that he left us to mine. We Are Open Circuits: Writings by Nam June Paik (2019) is the first substantial volume of his selected letters, unpublished manuscripts and project proposals, to be made available to the English-language public.52 It enables the reader to peer into his thoughts and appreciate his words from different phases in his career. (A similar compilation of Paik’s essays in Japanese and Korean would also be beneficial, should it come to pass.) The catalogue for Paik’s 1982 Whitney Museum retrospective lists of Paik’s selected published writings in different languages.53 His earliest texts which focused on new music were written whilst he was in Germany in 1958, and were printed in Ongaku geijutsu (Studies in Musical Art), a Japanese music journal, and Chayushimun (The Korean Free Press), a Korean newspaper. Media Art scholar Byeongwon Ha has researched Paik’s Chayushimun articles and argues that Paik’s assessments of new music in these articles laid the groundwork for his approach to interactive art.54 Curator Sook-Kyung Lee’s inclusion of SAC Journals in the exhibition Nam June Paik: The Future Is Now also aims to expose the tip of this iceberg: Paik’s contributions to this periodical published in Tokyo may have increased the awareness of him in Japan.55 In her essay, Lee includes a press report on Paik from Japanese newspaper Yomiuri shimbun dated 8 June 1963, affirming his prominent position in the Japanese art world.56 Shuya Abe’s account of their first meeting echoes Lee’s point: Abe “knew about Paik long before” their faithful encounter in September 1963 through local newspaper reports on Paik’s affiliation with the Fluxus Group.57
Paik’s place in the Korean art world and his reception in Korea can also be traced in the headlines and quantity of press reports on him and his work between 1961 and 1989.58 The earliest press report can be traced to 3 December 1961: Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo (Joseon Daily) published a feature on Paik and identified him as an active member of the German avant-garde music scene. The article notes his participation in Stockhausen’s Originale (1961) and his early performative artworks Simple (1961) and Symphony for 20 Rooms (1961).59 Subsequent reports in Korean newspapers Kyunghyang Shinmun (Kyunghyang News), Dong-A Ilbo and Maeil Economy during the 1960s discuss Paik’s “anti-sound” performances, partnership with “naked cellist” Charlotte Moorman, and electronic art experiments.60 Though the number of media accounts dropped in the 1970s, with just brief mentions of his participation in the 13th São Paulo Biennale and exhibitions in Chicago and Paris, Paik’s 1984 visit to Seoul and subsequent projects in South Korea might have triggered elevated attention in local community, as news article quantity increased tenfold in the 1980s, and even more so in the 1990s.61
Pieced together, the burgeoning research referenced in this essay begins to dissipate the conception of Paik only reconnecting with Asia—primarily Japan and Korea—in the 1980s, and that his artistic career came solely out of his time spent in Europe and North America. Rather, we see Paik’s continuous ties with his homeland and communities across the two countries that were once joined under the same empire and share an ancient heritage with China. His return to Tokyo in 1963–1964 may have lasted a little less than a year, yet it played a significant role in incubating his later experiments. We can only guess how Paik’s work would have evolved if he had stayed in Tokyo, or moved directly to New York from Cologne; although we are certain that Paik’s realisation “that the West knows much less about the East than the other way round, and that culture and cultural identity are things that can keep people together or pull them apart” prompted him to remain in the United States after arriving in 1964.62 When his health began to fail in the 1990s, Paik introduced an introspective approach to his artmaking, strengthening the connection with his origins and renewing a critical examination of them.63 Many of his drawings dated 1996 and after are filled with a myriad of colours and scattered with either Chinese, Korean Hangul, Japanese Hiragana or mixed scripts. An example is Untitled (Robots) (fig. 3), in SFMOMA’s collection. Two figures, made up of angular shapes suggesting television monitors and radio equipment, stand next to each other. Multiple emoticons and shapes of a seated Buddha are imprinted on their bodies. At the lower right are the Chinese characters “老” (old or elderly), “少” (small or youth), “中” (centre or middle-aged) and “幼” (young or infant), representing the four stages of a human lifespan. Painted in bold navy colours parallel to the duo are the characters “乾坤咸福豊選” (pinyin: qián kūn xián fú lǐ xuǎn). It is ambiguous as to whether these are written as Traditional Chinese, Korean Hanja or Japanese Kanji script, and if they may carry different meanings based on the context of each language. Using Classical Chinese to decipher this phrase, it roughly translates to: In between heaven and earth, sun and moon, we are blessed with all its benefits and free to choose from its abundant supply. This statement resonates with a message in his letter to German collaborators dated 6 October 1996—“I became rather religious and faithful after the stroke. I learned to follow the natural path of things”—and makes us ponder the complexity of Paik’s thinking during the last decade of his life.64
Through studying the life and work of Nam June Paik, we are continuously reminded that history is multifaceted, with links and impacts that can be both obvious and ambiguous. The level of complexity increases as the artist and his creative development follows a non-linear progression. It becomes even more challenging when the artist traverses geographical and cultural boundaries. Such was the world that Paik lived in. We can follow Paik’s strategy of navigating this chaos by maintaining an open mind and heart with an optimistic outlook, while also exercising sharp judgement and critical analysis in considering all sides. Learning from the dazzling array of artworks that Paik left us, we can also adopt his boundless confidence in the good of humanity and his courage in bridging cultures and communities in a disparate world. For our future is now.
- The identification of Paik as a pioneer in video art and new media art is made countless time by various academics, curators and the press throughout history. This includes the term “father of video art,” which Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo [East Asia Daily] proclaimed in two articles published in August and October 1981. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art too leveraged on this term in its exhibition and publicity materials for Nam June Paik: The Future Is Now, which recently opened in May 2021.
- “Skype is launched in August  … Paik referenced a Skype-like device in a 1968 interview postulating, ‘[T]he picture telephone will undoubtedly soar the sales and spur the designs of gorgeous negligees. When you get a telephone call at night you want to be seen in your best pajamas […] a businessman goes to a convention in the Midwest and wants to say goodnight with a picturephone call to his beloved wife in New York. […] They talk to each other, a bit of escalation, and kiss through the picture […] a daring wife might talk to her husband topless.’” Michelle Yun, “Nam June Paik: Fast-Forward,” in Nam June Paik: Becoming Robot, ed. Michelle Yun (New York: Asia Society, 2014), 176.
- For a comprehensive read on video art, refer to Dieter Daniels, 40 Years Video Art.DE: Digital Heritage: Video Art in Germany from 1963 to the Present (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2006) and Yvonne Spielmann, Video: The Reflexive Medium (London: The MIT Press, 2008).
- Yun, op. cit.
- PC World, an online magazine that specialises in the latest technological news, published a summary on the history of video calls. Benj Edwards, “History of Video Calls: From Fantasy to Flops to Facetime,” PC World, https://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/slideshow/350404/history-video-calls-from-fantasy-flops-facetime/ (accessed on 4 July 2021).
- Valentina Ravaglia, “Experiments at Bell Labs,” in Nam June Paik, eds. Sook-Kyung Lee & Rudolf Frieling (London: Tate Publishing, 2019), 71.
- Ibid. This work is also available on display at National Gallery Singapore in the exhibition Nam June Paik: The Future Is Now, running from 10 December 2021 to 27 March 2022.
- Nam June Paik, “La Vie, Satellites, One Meeting-One Life,” in Nam June Paik: Mostly Video (Tokyo: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 1984), 12–4.
- “Travel the World from your Armchair: Virtual Vacations Become the New Normal in Pandemic Era,” The Economic Times (India’s English Edition), July 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/travel-the-world-from-your-armchair-virtual-vacations-become-the-new-normal-in-pandemic-era/articleshow/77083093.cms (accessed 11 August 2021).
- Jan de Vries, “Playing with Scales: The Global, and the Micro, the Macro and the Nano,” Past & Present 242, suppl. 14 (November 2019): 23–36, also available online at: https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtz043
- The title of this compiled timeline takes reference from quantum physics and Paik’s retrospective exhibition at Guggenheim New York in the year 2000. It is most suitable for an extraordinary individual who traversed different worlds, which this assembled timeline hopes to capture and re-present.
- The reference section of “The Many-Worlds of Nam June Paik” provides a detailed breakdown of these materials.
- The dé-coll/age magazine was a self-published project that captured text and images created by different Fluxus members. It was inaugurated in 1961–1962 with a Europe-based circulation that expanded to the United States after 1964. The term “décollage” refers to the reverse of collage: rather than creating montage, it emphasises dismantling matters and their aesthetical sense.
- To find out more about this drawing and other works referenced in this essay, view it in person at National Gallery Singapore’s exhibition Nam June Paik: The Future Is Now (10 December 2021–27 March 2022).
- “[Microhistories] let readers understand people as agents of change for the worlds they live in, often in the face of overwhelming difficulties.” De Vries, op. cit.
- “[The satellite art] must consider how to achieve a two-way connection between opposite sides of the earth; how to give a conversational structure to the art; how to master the differences in time; how to play with improvisation, in determinism, echoes, feedbacks, and empty spaces in the cagean sense; and how to instantaneously manage the differences in culture, preconceptions, and common sense that exist between various nations. Satellite art must make the most of these elements (for they can become strengths or weaknesses) creating a multi-temporal, multi-spatial symphony.” Paik, op. cit., 12.
- Ibid., 14. For Abe’s recollection of their first meeting, see Shuya Abe, “Interview I: Shuya Abe,” in Shuya Abe, Jung Sung Lee: Nam June Paik Interviews, ed. Sang-Ae Park (Gyeonggi-do: Nam June Paik Art Center, 2016), 58.
- To find out more about Abe’s collaboration and friendship with Paik, refer to ibid., 58–73.
- Ibid. According to Abe, Paik had already started building a robot from scratch for about six months with help from a paid artist assistant and his brother Nam Il Paik before he was asked to join the operation. Abe stressed that the function and idea was fully Paik’s own, where they helped with the labour and mechanical aspect.
- Video documentation of Robot K-456 in action on the streets of New York is available at National Gallery Singapore’s exhibition Nam June Paik: The Future Is Now. Sang-Ae Park aptly describes the mix of the comic and the functional in Park, op. cit., 63: “When he made the robot walk, he deliberately loosened the bolts until it almost fell down.”
- Paik continues the humanisation of technology through a series of robot-sculptures, beginning with Family of Robots (1986). For more details, read Yun, op. cit.
- Engineer, futurist and novelist Sir Arthur Charles Clarke published Profiles of the Future : An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible in 1962. It is a compilation of essays on the futures of mankind, including the predictions of computers and the Internet. Refer to “The Many-Worlds of Nam June Paik” for more details.
“[Paik] was an advocate of the ‘global village,’ as coined by Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, that is, a whole world simplified into one village by media and information.” Sook-Kyung Lee, “Transforming Cultures, Connecting the World,” in Lee & Frieling, op. cit., 9.
- We can only speculate that writings by Clarke were read by Paik alongside those of McLuhan, as both of them are well-known names in the circles of futurists and technologists. Both Clarke and McLuhan were active and published concurrently to each other, although we have only Paik’s written responses to McLuhan’s writings captured in Nam June Paik, We Are in Open Circuits: Writings by Nam June Paik, eds. John G. Hanhardt, Gregory Zinman & Edith Decker-Phillips (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2019). We are also uncertain exactly when and how Paik learnt of Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by English novelist George Orwell and published in 1949. Refer to “The Many-Worlds of Nam June Paik” for more details.
- “Paik saw satellite transmissions as the perfect tool for his art to cross geographical boundaries. Aired on 1 January 1984, Good Morning, Mr. Orwell connected live events in New York and Paris. It was also broadcast in Korea, the Netherlands and West Germany.” Valentina Ravaglia, “Live Broadcast and Satellite Projects,” in Lee & Frieling, op. cit., 145
- See ibid.: “The title of Bye Bye Kipling refers to a line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Ballad of East and West: ‘East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.’ Paik aimed to prove Kipling wrong through a satellite broadcast that linked artists and events in New York, Seoul and Tokyo during the Asian Games.”
Paik’s active role in change and peace can be seen in the detailed letter dated 5 January 1986, which he penned to the director of International Relations at NHK Japan to propose his second satellite art project Bye Bye Kipling. In the proposal, Paik notes: “It is of great importance to attempt to interactive and multilateral communication among the peoples of Japan, Korea, China, the United States, etc. Of course, such a project would avoid any mention of political events of the recent past among these four nations, which have had quite a few ups and downs. This will be purely cultural and media experiment. It is a very challenging project, due in part to the gigantic problems in East and West communication, such as the difference between the Judeo-Christian culture and the Buddhist-Confucian, etc. Yet this project […] is destined to initiate.” Hanhardt, Zinman & Decker-Phillips, op. cit., 230–4.
- Nam June Paik, “My Projects in 1966–67,” in Hanhardt, Zinman & Decker-Phillips, op. cit., 334.
- Tate Shots, Nam June Paik—“My Crazy Uncle,” uploaded to Tate’s YouTube account on 16 January 2015 at https://youtu.be/5RE1ueYnSVc and SFMOMA Shorts, Ken Hakuta: My Uncle Nam June Paik, uploaded to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s YouTube account on 13 March 2019 at https://youtu.be/droJYnSNsok
- Ibid., SFMOMA Shorts: “Everybody in our family thought he was completely crazy, and they weren’t saying it in a cute way; they thought he was really crazy—well, somewhat in a cute way, in an affectionate way, but nobody really understood what he was doing.”
- Ibid., Tate Shots: “He was a great uncle to have, because he wanted me to watch more TV.”
- Created by Paik and Jud Yakult, Video Commune was broadcast live at WGBH-TV Boston on 1 August 1970 as part of the launch for the Paik-Abe Synthesizer (1969–1970). A shortened version was later made for exhibition display. These artworks are on view at National Gallery Singapore’s exhibition Nam June Paik: The Future Is Now.
- Park, op. cit., 58–61.
- Ibid, 61–2.
- Three months after its launch in Japan, the Astro Boy series became the first Japanese cartoon to be broadcast in the United States on NBC. Refer to “The Many-Worlds of Nam June Paik” for more details.
- Robot Opera was a live performance where Paik debuted Robot K–456 to a public audience; it was part of the 2nd Annual Avant Garde Festival of New York (1964) that was organised by Charlotte Moorman. Thereafter, Paik, Moorman and K-456 performed at various events together, until its “death” in 1982 outside the Whitney Museum of American Art.
- Hanhardt, Zinman & Decker-Phillips, op. cit., 99, 123–7, 179–84.
- Ibid., 334.
- An example is the artist timeline captured in Sook-Kyung Lee & Susanne Rennert, eds., Nam June Paik (London: Tate, 2010). This is the catalogue that accompanies Paik’s retrospective exhibition at Tate Liverpool.
- The Whitney Museum of American Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and Guggenheim New York each published an extensive timeline in their retrospective exhibition catalogues: John G. Hanhardt et. al., Nam June Paik (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1982); Nam June Paik, Mostly Video, op. cit.; John G. Hanhardt, The Worlds of Nam June Paik (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2000).
- Yun, op. cit., 163–76.
- “Paik freely dipped into diverse cultures and new technologies in a manner he described as ‘random access.’” Sook-Kyung Lee, “Transforming Cultures,” 9.
- Lee affirms that it is typical for Paik to write in “part Japanese and part English” (see ibid., 15) while Decker-Philips elucidates Paik’s ability to speak several languages albeit a preference to write at length in English and Japanese (see “Nam June Paik’s Chinese Memories,” in Hanhardt, Zinman & Decker-Phillips, op. cit., 383–93). Decker-Philips also posits that his linguistic facilities resulted in scholarly neglect: “That could explain why previous attempts to read and understand his calligraphy have been abandoned too soon.” Decker-Philips, “Chinese Memories,” 392–3.
- Nam June Paik’s effortless use of terms across languages indicate a thought process that deviates from linear progression and customary reasonings.
- Cambridge University Press launched Bilingualism: Language and Cognition in 1998, which accelerated interest at the turn of the century. It is an international peer-reviewed journal focusing on bilingualism and multilingualism from a linguistic, psycholinguistic and neuroscientific perspective. Parts of this journal are available online via Open Access: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
- “Paik played a significant intermediary role in bringing together Japanese, European and American artists and composers, alongside [Toshi] Ichiyanagi and [Yoko] Ono, who also had close links with the international art scenes.” Lee, “Transforming Cultures,” 15
- Decker-Philips, “Chinese Memories,” 393.
- Charles W. Holcombe, A History of East Asia: From the Origins of Civilization to the 21st Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 3.
- “Literacy was largely monopolized by men of the upper class, becoming a sign of privilege and social status. […] Some women of the upper class were able to receive formal training in Chinese classics along with their brothers […] Chinese was the script of prestige and status, reserved for the exclusive use of upper-class men. If a young man had not received instruction in Chinese, it was considered tantamount to having no education at all.” Hyaeweol Choi, “Disciplining the Modern Body and Mind,” in Gender and Mission Encounters in Kora: New Women, Old Ways (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 86–120. See also 107–8 for discussion regarding Korean Hangul and Hanja.
- Ibid., 115–9.
- Decker-Philips, “Chinese Memories,” 386.
- A similar German volume was published earlier in 1992: Nam June Paik and Edith Decker-Philips, Niederschriften eines Kulturnomaden: Aphorismen, Briefe, Texte [Writings of a Cultural Nomad: Aphorisms, Letters, Texts] (Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag, 1992).
- Hanhardt et. al., op. cit., 141–2.
- Ha joined the School of Visual Arts & Design at the University of South Carolina as an associate professor in 2019.
His papers on Paik can be found on his website http://www.bwonha.com/. His 2018 PhD dissertation “Nam June Paik as a Pioneer of Interactive Art” will be available for public access in May 2023 at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Scholar Database: https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/etd/5405/
- Paik contributed two texts in the 1963 July and October issues of SAC Journal, a periodical published by the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo. For a detailed analysis on the texts, refer to Sook-Kyung Lee, “Transforming Cultures,” 14–5. Also see June Yap, “Nam June Paik in Asia,” for an elaboration of Paik’s embodiment of the global as framed in this exhibition.
- “An article about Paik also appeared in the widely circulated daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun on 8 June 1963, titled ‘Today’s Face: Nam June Paik’. The article included references to his Korean nationality, his action-music such as One for Violin Solo, and his solo exhibition Exposition of Music Electronic Television, along with quotes on Cage. ‘Today’s Face’ was a brief but central feature in Yomiuri Shimbun’s Culture section, and it was indicative of Paik’s increasing status in the Japanese art world.” Lee, “Transforming Cultures,” 14.
- Park, op. cit., 58.
- I ploughed through Naver News Library (https://newslibrary.naver.com/search/searchByDate.nhn), an electronic database of selected local newspaper published in South Korea from 1920 to 1999, and found a substantial amount of press reports on Nam June Paik: 31 in the 1960s, 22 in the 1970s, 331 in the 1980s, and 1314 in the 1990s. Articles published before 1980 were articulated in a mix of Korean Hanja and Hangul, which allowed me to decipher it together with the help of Google Translate. I am certain that a scholar who is fluent in Chinese and Korean will be able to uncover more content and I look forward to learning about that research in the future.
- Paik’s satellite transmission art are notable projects with which he engaged South Korea and its people. Bye Bye Kipling (1986) and Wrap Around the World (1988) included traditional Korean performances and involved South Korea as a site of broadcast. Subsequent engagements include site-specific video-sculpture installations and plans for an art centre dedicated to him and his art. For details on news coverage in the 1990s, refer to footnote 58.
- Decker-Philips, “Chinese Memories,” 384.
- For further insights on Paik’s artworks made in the last decade of his lifetime, refer to John G. Hanhardt’s essay “Nam June Paik: The Late Style.” It was commissioned by Gagosian Gallery and printed in an exhibition catalogue of the same name. An electronic version is available on the bilingual Hong Kong-based art magazine Ran Dia/ 燃点 at http://www.randian-online.com/np_announcement/nam-june-paik-the-late-style-1996-2006-grasp-the-eternity/ (accessed 6 July 2021).
- Decker-Philips, “Chinese Memories,” 384.