The First Video Artist: Nam June Paik

Nam June Paik is considered the “Father of Video Art”, according to the Smithsonian’s page on him. His art consists largely of TV sculptures that form different shapes. The TVs usually remain on and reflect the sculpture itself, becoming a part of the art in its own way.

“Technology” 1991

The sculptures and video art pieces were an innovative way to use video as a medium when the practice was brand new. His works inspired many people to create digital works that have physical forms and visual interpretations.

“Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii” 1995

Works like this Electronic Superhighway capture America in laser lighting as well as imagery within the televisions, making the piece twofold in terms of its identity. Each set of screens within a state reflect the culture one might find there, making the piece glow and create a world unlike any other.

Works like these inspired bright, vibrant, and sometimes chilling recreations of the technology that was taking the world by storm, like this “TV Cello” piece that could actually be played. Its sound is nothing like one would expect from a simple string instrument, and the video itself is eerie and artistic in its angles and focuses between the sounds, cellist, and cello screens which also show the cellist playing it.

These pieces are incredibly interesting to look at and research, having no precedent. The US map caught my eye mostly due to the bright colors of the borders. It kept my attention, however, when I started looking at the various screens, trying to find imagery I recognized in the states I knew. Its captivating images are interesting and overall just nice to look at. Upon looking up information about Nam June Paik, I read about the cello before seeing it. I thought it was just a sculpture at first, but then I stumbled upon the video. The sounds it made were unexpected (although it’s obviously not a real cello, so I don’t know what I was expecting), but its eeriness similarly drew me in and I thought it would be valuable to show to others. The lengths to which Paik went to create not only a TV Cello, but one that can be played and has functional screens, is beyond impressive. His works are innovative and original even after the years we have had with the technology that he started with.

“Watchdog II” 1997

Sources: Artsy, Smithsonian American Art Museum

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