The Future is Now, and it’s in Singapore (thanks to Nam June Paik) until 27 Mar
Putting on a major retrospective covering five decades of work by visionary Korean-American artist Nam June Paik – the progenitor of video art who coined the phrase ‘information superhighway’ in 1974 to foretell the tidal wave of digital communications that would transform our lives – is no easy task. Partly because some of his installations are so big and complex; partly because they use largely antiquated technology; and partly because he passed away in 2006 and left no instructions.
But the efforts of Tate Modern, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and National Gallery Singapore, ably assisted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which has organised and catalogued Paik’s extensive archive of video and TV work, bespoke musical instruments, production notes, sketches, installation models and notebooks, has paid off handsomely. Nam June Paik: The Future is Now, which runs at National Gallery Singapore until 27 Mar, has wowed audiences all over the world.
Singapore is the exhibition’s first and only Asian port of call, and Singapore Art Week has adopted the retrospective as part of its Light to Night programme. Because of this, entry is free until 30 Jan and no booking is required during this period. From 31 Jan, tickets are available here.
Nam June Paik was born in Seoul, but lived and worked in Japan, Germany, and the United States. A citizen of the world, he questioned the relevance of national borders and the power of cultural differences in an increasingly connected world. His art reflects this global connectedness and a lifelong fascination with the philosophies and traditions of East and West.
Paik’s work encompasses sculpture, live broadcasting, video art, large-scale installations, and music. He studied the history of classical music at the University of Tokyo and moved to Germany in 1956 to pursue an interest in experimental composition. There, he met avant-garde composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, whose radical approach to performance and willingness to accept elements of chance in the creative process had a huge influence on Paik’s work.
The exhibition also highlights Paik’s collaborations with the likes of John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham, cellist Charlotte Moorman and famed painter, performance artist and provocateur, Joseph Beuys.
Some of Paik’s most iconic works can be experienced at The Future is Now, and they are really worth a look.
TV Buddha (1974)
TV Buddha is an 18th century wooden Buddha statue posed with the mudra hand gesture (denoting tranquil meditation) that watches itself on a TV screen, inducing the feeling that it is doomed to be forever trapped in the closed-circuit loop that displays its image into infinity. TV Buddha exemplifies the influence of Zen Buddhism on Paik’s aesthetic. He repeated this mesmerising feedback loop in 1976, replacing the Buddha with French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s Le Penseur. (Photo: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)
TV Garden (1974–1977; reconstructed 2002)
TV Garden is an unsettling hybrid landscape in which the seemingly distinct realms of electronics and nature merge. It is one of Paik’s signature works, following the Buddhist axiom that everything is interdependent and perfectly reflecting Paik’s own belief that, “Our life is half natural and half technological. Half-and-half is good. You cannot deny that high-tech is progress. We need it for jobs. Yet if you make only high-tech, you make war. So we must have a strong human element to keep modesty and natural life.” The monitors in this version of TV Garden display Paik’s music video Global Groove – a dense, vibrant visual collage of avant-garde art, pop, and commercial imagery touching on a central theme of Paik’s work: the transformative power of global digital communications and how that power will change the ways different cultures, disciplines and art forms connect and combine. (Photo: Kunstsamlung Nordrhein Westfalen)
Three Camera Participation (1969)
InThree Camera Participation, a trio of CCTV cameras, tripods, a custom-made video booster amplifier, a video projector and a cathode-ray tube monitor are so arranged that the viewer is both the creator and subject of electronic images in real time. Each camera in Three Camera Participation is connected to one of the three primary colours of a video signal (red, blue and green), splitting the live camera feed into overlapping coloured silhouettes projected onto the monitor and onto a wall with a disorientating time delay. (Photo: Kunsthalle Bremen-Der Kunstverein in Bremen)
Random Access (1963; reconstructed 2000)
Random Access is an interactive installation from Paik’s 1963 exhibition, Exposition of Music – Electronic Television, which Paik described as a “city map and abstract painting, sight and sound and action”. You ‘play’ the piece by running the top of an extended player head over the magnetic tape on the wall. Depending on the speed at which you do this, sounds picked up by the player head may be distorted or muffled so that each mix is a unique composition. (Photo: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York)
Sistine Chapel (1993; reconstructed 2019)
Paik’s award-winning Venice Biennale piece from 1993 was painstakingly reconstructed a quarter of a century later by Tate Modern in London as part of the international effort to stage the Paik retrospective. Sistine Chapel today is a large-scale installation made up of 40 video projectors zapping overlapping images of graphics and famous individuals ranging from 60s rock star Janis Joplin to German artist Joseph Beuys – one of Paik’s many collaborators over the years. The sheer speed of the image changes is a metaphor for information overload. (Photo: National Gallery Singapore)
We think this acclaimed retrospective is worth more than one visit between now and 27 Mar when it closes. Get a sneak peek of Nam June Paik The Future is Now here.