Interview

'My crazy uncle', Nam June Paik

Inventor Ken Hakuta remembers his uncle's approach to life, art and music lessons

Ken Hakuta: We used to call Nam June 'my crazy uncle'. He was a great uncle to have, because he wanted me to watch more TV, and I used to be a really bad piano student who had to take piano lessons. He took our family piano and destroyed it on stage, so no more piano lessons.

Sook-Kyung Lee: Nam June Paik was a pioneer of video in new media art, and he was one of the most innovative artists of the twentieth century. He was really quite a visionary, using ideas like Electronic Superhighway and technologies such as television set, laser, CCTV systems.

Ken Hakuta: He has really influenced not just the new generations of artists, but really popular culture. When you go to the fashion stores, when you go to these designer stores, a lot of the displays, for a long time, look like Nam June pieces, with all the big television pieces all over the place. MTV is very much like Nam June’s videos, and he’s not just global as an artist, but he foresaw the globalisation of everything – art, commerce, travel – everything.

"I burned everything I’ve done"

Sook-Kyung Lee: Paik was quite a good collaborator, not just with artists, but with engineers and technicians. Japanese engineer Shuya Abe worked with Paik for many, many years. They were together developing new types of machines, synthesisers which can manipulate images on TV. Although Paik is largely known as the, sort of, pioneer of new media art, he used conventional artistic medium as well, such as paintings and drawings. It was really his experimental spirit and aesthetics which set him apart from other artists of the same age.

Ken Hakuta: I was really fortunate in watching Nam June physically make things: for example, there is a Can Car which he made in my bedroom in Tokyo. Wheels on the Can Car, and the motor comes from my toys.

My uncle told me, you should experience everything once; and I think he gave my mind great flexibility in thinking of everything backwards and forwards, sideways.

And maybe that’s why I’m not shocked by many things in life, because I may have learnt that from my uncle.

We used to call Nam June 'my crazy uncle'. He was a great uncle to have, because he wanted me to watch more TV!

Ken Hakuta

Nam June Paik was a visionary artist who foresaw the importance of mass media and new technology on the visual arts.

'He has really influenced not just the new generations of artists, but really popular culture', says his nephew, Ken Hakuta. 'He’s not just global as an artist, but he foresaw the globalisation of everything – art, commerce, travel – everything.'

'He was one of the most innovative artists of the twentieth century, continues curator Sook-Kyung Lee. 'He was really quite a visionary, using ideas like Electronic Superhighway and technologies such as television set, laser, CCTV systems.'

Hakuta recalls Nam June Paik as a great uncle because 'he wanted me to watch more TV. And I used to be a really bad piano student who had to take piano lessons. He took our family piano and destroyed it on stage, so no more piano lessons.'

Paik also left some lasting advice: 'my uncle told me, you should experience everything once, and I think he gave my mind great flexibility in thinking of everything backwards and forwards, sideways. And maybe that’s why I’m not shocked by many things in life, because I may have learnt that from my uncle.'

It was his experimental spirit and aesthetics which set him apart from other artists of the same age.

Sook-Kyung Lee, Senior Curator, International Art

Find out more

  • Artist

    Nam June Paik

    1932–2006
  • Art Term

    Fluxus

    Fluxus is an international avant-garde collective or network of artists and composers founded in the1960s and still continuing today

  • Art Term

    Electronic media

    The most common examples of electronic media are video recordings, audio recordings, slide presentations, CD-ROM and online content

Artworks by Nam June Paik