Nam June Paik

born 1932 in Seoul; died 2006 in Miami

Biography

1950 Flees the Korean War to Tokyo with his family

1953–1956 Studies music, art history, and philosophy at Tokyo University, final thesis on Arnold Schönberg

1956–1957 Studies art history, the history of music, and philosophy at Munich University

1957–1958 Studies composition with Wolfgang Fortner in Freiburg

1957 First meets Karlheinz Stockhausen

1958 Meets John Cage at the Darmstadt Vacation Course, and is deeply impressed by his understanding of music

1958–1963 Lives in Cologne, at the time the »Capital of New Music«

1958 Begins to work on electronic music, with a loose association with the WDR Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne

1959–1962 Concerts in Jean-Pierre Wilhelm’s Galerie 22 in Düsseldorf and in Mary Bauermeister’s legendary studio in Cologne

1962 Meets Fluxus founder George Maciunas and begins to participate in Fluxus events, first in Europe, later in the USA

1963 Exposition of Music. Electronic Television, Galerie Parnass, Wuppertal, is Paik’s first solo exhibition

1964 Moves to New York, begins to work with cellist Charlotte Moorman

1965 Buys the first portable video recorder and begins to use it as an artist

1966 First multi-monitor installation

1969/1970 Builds video synthesizers with Shuya Abe

1977 Marries video artist Shigeko Kubota

1979–1995 Professor at the Düsseldorf Art Academy

Visual Arts and Music

Visual Arts and Music

Music and fine art were inseparably linked in many aspects of the work of Nam June Paik.

In 1958 he moved to Cologne, at the time one of the most progressive centers in the art and music avant-gardes in Europe. Meeting John Cage in 1958 at the Darmstadt Vacation Course, and hearing his lectures there on composition as a process was crucial, and Cage’s understanding of any kind of consciously experienced action as potential music, his fascination for Zen Buddhism, and his work with prepared pianos, and the use of aleatory methods all made a lasting impression. Homage à John Cage. Music for Tape Recorder and Piano (1959) was Paik’s first composition to make use of the principle of chance. (Cage had already written his first tape recorder compositions in 1952.) Further works of action and anti-music followed, involving the radical expansion of sound material and of the concept of music, while owing much to forms of art that had been developed by the fine arts, usually by overstepping the parameters of and expanding painting. What Paik and the artists of the Fluxus movement, which he joined in 1962, understood to be concerts would today be seen as actions or happenings.

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Paik’s music always involved participative and performative elements, using the newest electronic media and also very simple materials and gestures. In One for Violin Solo (1961), for example, the interpreter slowly lifts up a violin and then smashes it against a table to an accompanying lighting sequence.

Paik also »exhibits« both music and art. In his Exposition of Music. Electronic Television of 1963, he filled an entire Gründerzeit villa (which housed the Galerie Parnass) with objects and installations that could be used by visitors to make sounds and musical tones, and also to experience the mutual relations between seeing and listening and between image and sound. He also integrated television sets with manipulated images into this environment. This was the beginning of his lifelong interest in electronic media. Paik began very early, in the mid-1960s, to use the new medium of video, and all his life he produced videotapes, objects with integrated video, TV shows, and larger monitor and multi-monitor installations.

In the field of music, Paik promoted the inclusion of sexuality, which he saw as wrongly playing nearly no role – unlike in the fine arts. In 1964 he began to work with cellist Charlotte Moorman, who was willing to perform naked in the context of his action music. Between 1964 and 1967, performances in Europe and America combined classical music and music written by Paik with (allusions to) sex, striptease, and playing music naked. After being convicted for indecent exposure during a performance in 1967 in New York, Paik »dressed« Moorman with electronic equipment, including a TV Bra.

As early as 1962, the score to Young Penis Symphony (1962) prescribed that ten young men one after the other put their penises through a hole in a large piece of paper stretched across the stage. Paik wrote Serenade for Alison (1962) for Fluxus artist Alison Knowles – a kind of anti-striptease, in which Knowles follows a predetermined choreography, wearing many pairs of knickers and taking them off one by one to throw them into the audience.

Author: Eva Badura-Triska / Susanne Neuburger

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In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Nam June Paik

New Television Workshop Performance with Charlotte Moorman, Nam June Paik, 1971, 5:11 min

After her arrest during the performance of Opera Sextronique in 1967 in New York, Charlotte Moorman never again performed entirely naked. In TV Bra for Living Sculpture her breasts were covered up by a »TV bra« designed by Paik, made of two small monitors in plastic cases, on which Paik screened live recordings of the audience. Moorman played her instrument until Paik knelt down between her thighs, pushing his head between her breasts and holding a cello string across his back, so that Moorman could use his body as a »human cello,« as she had already done in earlier performances.

Author:

Eva Badura-Triska / Susanne Neuburger