An astounding story on BBC America this evening about the Korean-born visual artist Nam June Paik, considered the father of video art, who coined the phrase “electronic superhighway” in 1974 while creating works that pushed the boundaries of television.
Cisco might like to claim Tomorrow starts here, but Nam June was building his version of tomorrow’s world a full 10 years before Cisco came on the scene and gradually built an internet backbone capable of handling video in ways that instantiate the artist’s vision.
Paik’s work, which has been put on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, envisioned a future where the transmission of piles of data could happen instantaneously.
Paik, who died in 2006, was the first artist to experiment with the platform of television, seeing it as an open canvas on which many more artists would one day construct their works.
Smithsonian American Art Museum director Betsy Broun says the futurist was “like an antennae that was pointed out into the world, absorbing ideas”.
Smithsonian senior curator for media arts, John G. Hanhardt, speaks passionately about the impact of digital media on the global consciousness in a way that is beyond the boundaries of any one discipline:
You know, I really do feel that 20th century art history is going to be rewritten through the moving image: from film to video and television, to video games, interactive platforms, the Internet. All the arts—whether literature, poetry, dance, sculpture—have changed because of these media as art forms. The whole telling of stories has changed remarkably through the impact of cinema and television and all of these moving image discourses. And they’ve also become art forms themselves, not only as classical cinema but as avant garde film practice, documentary, narrative, video art, installation and performance all throughout the 20th century. The very exciting access to a global history of the moving image through the Internet as well as the mobility of the artist to work and create digitally in a variety of forms and through diverse media platforms. It is really the new paper, the new printing press. However you want to look at it! That changed how we saw information. I do think that artists give us new ways to see ourselves and see the world around us, it is at the center of art history. And Nam June certainly achieved that transformation of video through his art.
Were he alive today, I suspect Paik would be looking 50 years ahead to a future we cannot imagine, where technology that currently seems outlandish is commonplace.