Thursday, March 30, 2006

Nam June Paik Eats Sushi in Palm Beach

As a follow-up to my recent attendance at the Nam June Paik memorial in Germany, here are a few anecdotes I want to relate from testimonials I heard from those who knew Paik well:
  • when asked about his relationship with art history, Paik said it was like looking out in a meadow and seeing a dead flower in the middle of it all and having to go pick it up

  • sometime in the early 60s, while attending a very noisy, almost unlistenable triple concert where there were three simultaneous orchestras playing under the direction of three separate conductors, one of the conductors, Karlheinz Stockhausen, stopped the music in the middle of the performance and reprimanded the third violin for being out of tune, at which point Paik decided right there and then that if Stockhausen could hear that one out of tune violonist in the midst of the cacaphony of noise in the hall, then he, Paik, was in the wrong business, and ceased thinking of himself as a musical composer which then opened the door to him becoming a visual artist (and that was nicely transitioned in the title of his first gallery show, "Exhibition of Music - Electronic Television")

  • Paik once applied for a Rockerfeller Foundation grant and in the section that asked what he wanted the money for, he wrote "To destroy all national television"

  • speaking before a group of politicos who were focusing their discussion on, among other things, Communism/Marxism, Paik silenced the crowd by asking "but this brings up a very important question, and that is, what happens when you cannot find a parking space?"

  • the printer Wolfgang Hainke spoke about a limited edition set of 200 prints that he made in collaboration with NJP and that he needed NJP to sign, so he flew out to New York and on the Saturday that he arrived, Hainke called NJP's home to see if he could bring the prints over for NJP to sign - but Shigeko, NJP's wife, answered his request by saying "we don't work on weekends" - Hainke was upset about this and thought of immediately leaving NYC but but ended up hanging out an extra few days which was lucky and somewhat odd, since on the following Tuesday afternooon, NJP called to say that it was OK to bring the prints over now since he was ready to sign them. It was 9/11.

Those are just some of the stories that I heard that I can still recall, and my German translation skills are not that hot, so they may not be 100% accurate. Besides that, there really is no way to relate the video animation homage that I saw called "Nam June Paik Eats Sushi in Palm Beach". Keep an eye out for it.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Experimental Television, Physiological Spasms, and the Proprioceptive Artist-Medium

In his loose, poetic, handwritten style, Nam June Paik's "Experimental Television" - now on display at the Kunsthalle-Bremen with the original art work from his first-ever 1963 video art exhibition in Wuppertal, features an excerpt that truly connects with my own recent discoveries around nomadic net art, VJ performance, hyperimprovisation, and tapping into the unconscious flow of creative composition before conscious thought steps in a derails your signifying momentum. Paik says, referring to the word (in quotes) "ecstasy"
to go out of oneself...
and then continues with:
  • completely filled time
  • the presence of eternal presence
  • unconscious, or super-conscious
  • -- some mystic forgets himself (goes out of oneself)
  • abnormal
  • the world stops for three minutes!
and the trick, I would add, for stopping the world (and this is the exact same phrase used in the Carlos Castenada books where the trickster-shaman Don Juan advises his young disciple on how to "trip"/drift through life), is to always stay a half a second ahead of the game, creating on the fly DO-IT-YOURSELF MANIPULATIONS of all of the source material you have at your disposal (the phrase DO-IT-YOURSELF MANIPULATIONS comes from the typewritten notes/theory of Paik's contemporary and Fluxus artist Wolf Vostell, whose work is exhibited in the same large gallery room at Kunsthalle Bremen with Paik's 1963 work).

After Paik tells us "the world stops for three minutes!" - he has an aside that reads:
"Dostoevsky before the spasm of Epilepsy"
which reminds me of the "physiological spasm" that Allen Ginsberg spoke about when discussing his best poetry, that is, when the body of the poet gets "lost in space" - i.e. totally immersed in other-worldly body chanting instead of just talking per se.

Speaking with students in Bremen, we discussed how one gets into this ex-static state of mind, unconsciously playing in whatever glorious field of composition we happen to be moving our bodies in...

Think of it as creating an active unconscious momentum, where the proprioceptive artist-medium "knows" where they are going without ever having been there before.

Or: imagine the artist-medium playing out their aesthetic potential via an innate body intuition, flushed with the illogic of sense (data), operating on autopilot.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

There Is No Rewind Button For Life

Upon landing in Bremen, VJ Persona's first stop on the 2006 Professor Everywhere Euro Tour, he is picked up by the World-Historical figure in the field of computer art, Frieder Nake. Nake has recently been experiencing a late-in-life boom of attention on his significant contributions to the field of digital / new media / algorithmic art, and was part of the Stuttgart group who began creating algorithmic art and the physical objects that resulted from algorithmic processes back in the early 60s, when machines were VERY SLOW. Perhaps they should have called it Patience Art back then, since it took days to render what now takes seconds.

So Frieder helps Persona throw his bags into the car and they dart off to the Kunsthalle Bremen, where they have the John "Cage Raum" on permanent display, among other great works, but that is also featuring a show called - which basically translates as 40 Years of German Video Art. The thing is, as far as an art historical retrospective on video art goes, it doesn't get any older than 40 years, and that's because, for all practical purposes, it can be said that video art started here in Germany, around 1963, with Nam June Paik's "Exhibition of Music - Electronic Television" gallery show in the small town of Wuppertal. Now dig this: the show opens with the work that was exhibited in Wuppertal in the early Sixties. A fantastic collection of magnetically distorted and delayed video footage, participatory TV (created by drawing on a table surface with microphones), tape loops, as well as the beginnings of what we would soon call video sculpture, come into view here as does a handwritten freestyle poetics called "Experimental Television" by Nam June Paik himself, a glass encased series of papers where he initializes his emergent video art theory by saying:
A is different from B
but not
A is better than B
sometimes I need red apple
sometimes I need red lips

(which reminds Persona of the Dick Higgins' quotes Professor Everywhere referenced in a recent post, questioning what is new in art, as opposed to feeling the need to create something different, NOW)

The show in Bremen is actually part of five simultaneous shows across Germany (the others are in Leipzig, Dusseldorf, Munich, and the ZKM in Karlsruhe), each city taking on a different decade, and here in Bremen is where it all starts - the 60s. Also on exhibition here is Paik's first "Video Synthesizer" work, a huge interconnected Cable-Hardware Monster, as well as the earliest video art and related work from Wolf Vostell, Joseph Beuys, Jan Dibbets, and Karl Gerstner, to name a few. The entire five-city exhibition is too elaborate to reconstruct in blog space, but believe it or not, that's not the entire story of VJ Persona's arrival in Bremen!

Upon arriving at the Kunsthalle Bremen, Frieder informs Persona that they are just in time for the Nam June Paik memorial/homage entitled There Is No Rewind Button For Life. Paik, who passed away in late January, has already had two other big memorials, one in New York and one in Seoul (he was born in Korea), and now in five minutes will begin his European homage, here in the country where video art was born, and which will be led by Kunsthalle director Wulf Herzogenrath and Paik's nephew Ken Paik Hakuta. As they are whisked into the room, there are about 75 people in attendence, including Paik's widow Shigeko Kubota, along with many early Fluxus artists and early and current video art curators from at least five countries.

In upcoming blog posts, details of some of the more interesting anecdotes told during the ceremony will emerge, as will more excerpts from the handwritten artist theory Paik wrote while inventing his new form of "experimental television" in the early 60s.

Stay tuned.

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