Nam June Paik

Three Eggs

1975–1982

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Artist
Nam June Paik 1932–2006
Medium
Video, 2 colour television receivers, video camera, tripod and eggs
Dimensions
Unconfirmed: 1956 x 1220 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Hakuta Family (Tate Americas Foundation) 2017
Reference
T14877

Not on display

Summary

Three Eggs is a video installation that was conceived and developed over a period of seven years between 1975 and 1982. It incorporates a closed-circuit television camera and two Sony KV-4000 colour television receivers, one functioning and the other with the television tube removed to reveal a hollow case. The components are arranged in a line on a table and function in relation to each other: the video camera, positioned on the floor and angled towards the table, films an egg; the first television receiver projects the filmed footage of this egg; and the second television receiver displays a real egg where the removed television tube should be. It is a humorous and conceptually complex installation and the first work of a number in which the artist made use of eggs.

Following an education in Tokyo, where the artist’s family fled from Korea in 1949 on account of the imminent Korean War, Paik arrived in Germany in 1956 as an aspiring composer, studying first at the University of Munich and later at the Academy of Music in Freiburg. Increasingly involved with the New Music scene around Cologne, Paik visited the Electronic Studio of the WDR West German public broadcasting corporation in the late 1950s on the advice of a teacher at the Academy. It was here that he met the experimental German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, whom he later worked alongside during his time employed at the Studio between 1958 and 1963. Exposed to electronic devices, sound-producing equipment and knowledgeable engineers, Paik began to experiment with and investigate the physical and electronic properties of the television, hoping to determine the way in which they could be manipulated to new ends. Speaking about himself in these years, Paik said: ‘I still did not consider myself a visual artist, but I knew there was something to be done in television and nobody else was doing it, so I said why not make it my job?’ (quoted in Museum Moderner Kunst, Stiftung Ludwig Wien 2009, p.65).

On the suggestion of his Fluxus friend and mentor, the experimental composer John Cage, Paik moved to New York in 1964 and continued to further his televisual innovations. These had been encouraged by a return visit to Tokyo the previous year, when he met and experimented with the Japanese electronics expert and engineer, Shuya Abe. Paik was the first visual artist to acquire a Sony half-inch videotape recorder and player in 1965, shortly after its introduction, which he put to use capturing moving images around the city. Providing immediacy and control over the image (crucially, the ability to view the image in real time as it was being recorded) the introduction of the videotape recorder and player was one of the most important developments in Paik’s career.

After a period spent investigating the revelatory potential of the videotape recorder, during which time he integrated recorded video more freely into his televisual installations, Paik began to produce works that incorporated closed-circuit television systems. Due to the inclusion of a functioning video recorder – which presents events to the viewer on the monitor screen as they are captured in real time – these works are characterised by a distinct temporal quality which draws attention to both the passing of time and the image-making process itself. In contrast to installations which use film or sequences of pre-recorded video footage, captured and edited over time by the artist, these works place reality at the forefront.

In Three Eggs the closed-circuit television system is used in a humorous pun on illusion and reality. The work functions as a staged drama – a meditation on looking – in which different modes of presenting and receiving information are displayed to the viewer. Through the arrangement of eggs – both actual and represented – Paik encourages us to question the reality of the recorded image. The real egg becomes a televised one, shown via the monitor on its right-hand side, whereas the ‘televised’ egg, visible in the television monitor next to it, is, in fact, real. Serving as a reflection on the process of image production and reception – which is displayed visually in an infinite temporal loop – the television is presented as an interactive performance object. Three Eggs functions, in this sense, as an enactment of the lived experience of the digital age.

Further reading
The Worlds of Nam June Paik, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2000.
Nam June Paik: Exposition of Music, Electronic Television, exhibition catalogue, Museum Moderner Kunst, Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna 2009.
Sook-Kyung Lee and Susanne Rennert (eds.), Nam June Paik, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2010.

Hannah Johnston
May 2013

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