Nam June Paik (1932-2006)

John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Nam June Paik, Merce Cunningham, New Years Day 1984, at the time of the “Good Morning, Mr Orwell” collaboration, directed by Paik – photo by Hank O’Neal

Nam June Paik was born on this day, July 20, 1932.

Born in Korea and educated in Japan, he is generally considered the first video artist and the pioneer of all subsequent media art. Exhibited all over the world, a recent retrospective show took place at the Tate, Liverpool, in England. The curator, Sook-Kyung Lee speaks on his significance here, here, and here.

Allen’s involvement with him was long-standing. Here (buried three-and-a-half minutes in, digitally manipulated, and even a little scary), chanting OM and clashing the finger cymbals, he may be glimpsed in Paik’s seminal 1973 work, Global Groove.

More central, is this work, from almost a decade later, “Allan ‘N Allen’s Complaint”, directed by Nam June Paik and Shigeko Kubota (the other “Allen” is “Happenings” artist, Allan Kaprow¬†[2012 update – This video, originally featured here, is no longer available on You Tube. We retain, however, this brief description] Peter (a minute-and-a-half in) blithely picking banjo (“Feeding Them Raspberries To Grow”) while bemused kids look on. Allen, following immediately after, (a “crawl” on the screen declares “Three Years After The Death, Allen Ginsberg Confronts His Father Via Video Tape” – “Tamburlaine is dead. Napoleon, moving across the movie screen”, Allen announces, “..there’s millions of phantoms on television..” – Louis, as a kind of “third eye” – “that’s pretty..balanced”, “synagogue of silent dust” (Allen, unselfconsciously, wipes away a tear) – kaleidoscopic imagery, speeded-up sound.

“The influence of Jewish fathers on their sons”, one catalog notes, “and the complexity of familial relationships are explored in a witty, poignant portrait of two artists. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (whose father Louis was a poet in his own right) and performance artist/sculptor, Allan Kaprow (whose father is a high-powered lawyer) are the sons who struggle with and against the influence of these patriarchal figures..”

Finally, there’s Good Morning Mr Orwell. We’ve featured it before (Allen and Peter doing a rousing version of “Do The Meditation Rock”, and I guess we’ve also pointed out that’s Arthur Russell there on the cello.

and here’s Nam June Paik and John Cage in discussion at the University of California, San Diego, circa 1985

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