Nam Jun Paik’s Relevance Today


Light to Night Festival, 2019. Photo: National Gallery Singapore


In the sunny island of Singapore, where cinnamon art stories was founded, we have grown to love giant outdoor projection art - those that wrap our museum facades during events such as the Singapore Night Festival and National Gallery Singapore’s Light to Night Festival. Thousands of people fill the streets watching slick animations dance across monumental slabs of concrete. Given that our lives are full of screens and digital content, it is natural that we seek art in that form. It's eye-catching, dynamic and familiar to us. It is easy to take for granted the fact that video is considered an art form. In fact, these large scale video projections, alongside other immersive, technologically-mediated art, come from a long lineage of video and new media art, from which Nam Jun Paik stands out as one of the most important.


Nam Jun Paik (1932 - 2006) was a Korean-American artist commonly known as the father of video art. He was groundbreaking in his use of new media and technology throughout his career, transforming television sets, projectors, screens and lasers into art objects. Part of the Fluxus movement, and friends with other boundary-pushing artists such as Joseph Bueys and John Cage, Paik concerned himself with the future, constantly reflecting on new ways humans related to media. 


5 Times Artist Nam June Paik Predicted the Future


Paik was one of the first artists to use televisions in his work, exploring the impact of mass media, manipulating its video content as well as its physical form. In his first solo show in 1963 Exposition of Music-Electronic Television, Paik displayed manipulated televisions sets, mechanical sound objects and modified pianos seemingly strewn across the floor in a gallery set within a private residence. While engineers were seeking to improve video quality, Paik modified his televisions to distort any incoming footage - the distortion being part of the art. He elevated the status of the television set and its video content, exposing and celebrating the mess, the wires, the static and imperfections.


From there, he made many more installations and sculptures with televisions, branching into lasers and projections in his later work, where you can really see his relevance to immersive art today.


Laser Cone, 2001/2010, in collaboration with Norman Ballard


His larger installations over the years often surrounded the viewer spatially, occupying their full attention with a mixture of sound, video and environment. In fact, the highlight of Paik’s latest exhibition at the Tate Modern features one such installation - Sistine Chapel, 1993 - which was Paik presented in the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. It featured 42 projectors playing random video collages at the same time, creating a room filled with overlapping videos on the walls and ceiling and a commanding scaffold of heavy projectors in the center.



'Sistine Chapel' restaged at the Tate Modern, 2019. Photo: Tate


Nam June Paik: The Future Is Now at the Tate Modern in 2019 was co-organized by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in collaboration with Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and National Gallery of Singapore, and is scheduled to show in Singapore in 2021. Understanding and seeing Paik's work in person will no doubt add to your understanding and appreciation of immersive art today!



Exploring Art with Nam June Paik


Written by Melinda Lauw