Calling Nam Jun Paik a video art pioneer would be too narrow to describe his impact. In exploding the idea of what television and television processing could be in his art, he helped create a conceptual revolution that cleared the path for today’s ubiquitous and always-dynamic screens. But to really understand that work, you might want to delve into the theory of cybernetics, for the same reasons that can help understand early, radical electronic music and the path we’re on today.
Rhizome has a lovely essay by Carolyn Kane, framed by a new gallery show in New York. That show should be a pilgrimage for ardent Paikists. With animal-machine hybrids and screens everywhere, this is the cybernetic thought process made manifest, just at a time when we’re finding new insight into our relationship with technology as it becomes mobile.
As a Buddha gazes into a screen, visualists can contemplate being the screens on which they project. As Kane writes:
Paik is well known for transforming the architectural function of the television set from a mere box to an element distributed in space. However, these interventions must also be contextualized with his ongoing interest in cybernetics, a theory of animals and machines in their environment. In 1971 Paik asserted that today, the “nature of [the] environment is much more on TV than on film or painting. In fact, TV (its random movement of tiny electrons) is the environment.”
Maybe it’s time for some new visualist manifestos.
The Cybernetic Pioneer of Video Art: Nam June Paik [Rhizome]