You know that David Bowie interview with Jeremy Paxman where he predicts how the internet would impact every crevice of our life way back in 1999? A wall adorned with a large Nam June Paik quote at Tate Modern’s retrospective suggests the Korean artist was already of that view in 1974:
“TV will gain mainly branches … Picture-Phone, tele-facsimile, two way interactive TV for shopping, library research, opinion polling, health consultation, inter-office data transmission, and … 1001 new applications, a new nuclear energy in information and society building, which I would call tentatively BROADBAND COMMUNICATION NETWORK.
There was plenty on show to cover Paik’s history in the musical avant-garde and Fluxus, including his connections with John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Charlotte Moorman, but it was where this crossed over with the burgeoning video technology of the time where his art became truly distinctive and interesting. Many of his works, such as TV Buddha (1974) -- a buddha statue contemplating its own image on a CCTV screen -- still have a foot firmly planted in conceptual art but taps into both Paik’s optimism and (to a lesser level) scepticism about the oncoming new media age.
TV Buddha, Three Eggs and One Candle (Candle TV) all feel like futuristic settings of Magritte’s Treachery of Images, except the pipe is present observing its own representation. These works, including TV Garden (wherein old sets are nestled between the flora of a seeming forest floor), feel like a prophetic look to how we should best interact with the world in 2020: a need to embrace (or react against) how technology is intertwined to every moment in life, how we need to find zen whilst living alongside technology whilst also recognising the illusion from the reality.
I remember reading some advice somewhere about painting or photography, that one shouldn’t ignore modern technology in your images for fear of your work quickly becoming dated, because actually it’s the old cars, the buildings, fashion and so on that becomes fascinating for viewers of the future. Paik’s technology provides this in spades and the ‘datedness’ of his work only serves to demonstrate how technology and innovation strives forward for better or worse. Indeed, as Paik said in 1986: “There is no rewind button on the BETAMAX of life.” ⓡ