R.I.P., Nam June Paik

UPDATE: For your listening pleasure, Hommage a John Cage (1958-1959). This four minute-plus track comes from the Works 1958.1979 that came out a couple years back on Sub Rosa (and is apparently now out-of-print). Not sure if any other plans are in the works to issue Paik’s musical output (Stephen Vitiello’s liner notes seem to indicate a lot of tapes), but I’d love to hear ’em.

The Associated Press and other media outlets are reporting that Nam June Paik has died:

Nam June Paik, the avant-garde artist credited with inventing video art in the 1960s by combining multiple TV screens with sculpture, music and live performers, has died. He was 74.

The Korean-born Paik, who also coined the term “Electronic Super Highway” years before the information superhighway was invented, died Sunday night of natural causes at his Miami apartment, according to his Web site.

In a 1974 report commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation, Paik wrote of a telecommunications network of the future he called the “Electronic Super Highway,” predicting it “will become our springboard for new and surprising human endeavors.” Two decades later, when “information superhighway” had become the phrase of the moment, he commented, “Bill Clinton stole my idea.”

He also was often credited with coining the phrase, “The future is now.”

Trained in music, aesthetics and philosophy, he was a member of the 1960s art movement Fluxus, which was in part inspired by composer John Cage’s use of everyday sounds in his music. Another Fluxus adherent was the young Yoko Ono.

Paik made his artistic debut in Wiesbaden, West Germany, in 1963 with a solo art exhibition titled “Exposition of Music-Electronic Television.” He scattered 12 television sets throughout the exhibit space and used them to create unexpected effects in the images being received. Later exhibits included the use of magnets to manipulate or alter the image on TV sets and create patterns of light.

He moved to New York in 1964 and started working with classical cellist Charlotte Moorman to combine video, music and performance.

In “TV Cello” they stacked television sets that formed the shape of a cello. When she drew the bow across the television sets, there were images of her playing, video collages of other cellists and live images of the performance.

In one highly publicized incident, Moorman was arrested in 1967 in New York for going topless in performing Paik’s “Opera Sextronique.” Said one headline: “Cops Top a Topless `Happening.'” In a 1969 performance titled “TV Bra for Living Sculpture,” she wore a bra with tiny TV screens over her breasts.

Another of Paik’s pieces, “TV Buddha,” is a statue of a sitting Buddha facing its own image on a closed-circuit television screen, while “Positive Egg,” has a video camera aimed at a white egg on a black cloth. In a series of larger and larger monitors, the image is magnified until the actual egg becomes an abstract shape on the screen.

Paik also incorporated television sets into a series of robots. The early robots were constructed largely of bits and pieces of wire and metal; later ones were built from vintage radio and television sets.

Famous worldwide, Paik never forgot his native Korea. In 1986, public television showed Paik’s “Bye Bye Kipling,” a mix of taped and live events, mostly from Paik’s native Seoul; Tokyo; and New York. Two years later, Paik erected a media tower, called “The more the better,” from 1,003 monitors for the Olympic Games at Seoul.

Paik was left partially paralyzed by a stroke in 1996.

Funeral services will be held this week in New York, Hakuta told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

I went to the Guggenheim retrospective a few years ago, and it was pretty mind-bogglingly amazing. Especially the early, Fluxus-era stuff. Paik had been in pain for quite some time (as the AP obit says, he had a stroke a decade ago), so I hope he’s at peace now. R.I.P., Zen for Head.

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