Nam June Paik was a pioneering figure in multimedia art, who worked with radios, televisions, robotics and computers to explore humanity’s ever-changing relationship with technology.
Credited with being the first person to coin the term ‘electronic super-highway’, his influence can be seen today all over the internet and popular culture.
In this episode of TateShots, inventor Ken Hakuta remembers his uncle and his unconventional 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.