Saturday, 26 February 2011

Nam June Paik at Tate Liverpool

Nam June Paik - Buddha - seen here

I went to Liverpool this week for the first time, I've been meaning to go there for such a long time. What a beautiful city. The reason for my visit was the Nam June Paik show at Tate Liverpool and FACT

This retrospective show of the Korean/American artist, who died in 2006, is large and comprehensive, showing key works from his career along side documentation, photographs and film. Paik was a member of the Fluxus movement of artists, having met the influential artist John Cage in 1958 (he called the period before this meeting BC - Before Cage). A classically trained pianist, Paik studied at The University of Tokyo and wrote his thesis on the composer Arnold Shoenberg. Later, whilst studying in Germany he met Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Joseph Beuys.

The show includes many of Paik's television based pieces, he understood very early in his career the potential influence of television on culture and is credited with being the first video artist and a pre-curser to the MTV generation. Experimental, funny, ridiculous and pioneering, he plays with the medium and its possibilities. Music is central to his work, and his collaborations with cellist and muse Charlotte Moorman are pure Fluxus madness.

Paik's agenda throughout his career was to humanise technology, make parallels between TV, music, performance and human physiognomy. He was interested in the the conversation between technology and nature and the human spirit. My favourite works in the show were a room of his Buddha television pieces. I felt these pieces had a depth and relevance that held true, they lightly parody the TV generation.  Buddha figures stare contemplatively at CCTV of themselves or empty TV shells sometimes lit with a candle, sometimes meditative, sometimes laughing.

Fluxus is still exerting its influence on current art practice, we are beginning to contextualise its impact more thoroughly. This show raises all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts. It is very hard to encounter the works as anything other than archaic, although their original manifestations were as cutting edge works using the new technology of the era; it is almost impossible not to overlay the sense of the museum on the work. The necessary curation of the work in the Tate space brings a quite sad element to the experience. Most of the pieces were made to be performed, to be part of a happening and definitely not made to be on plinths and under Perspex preserved for our scrutiny. The Fluxus manifesto is diametrically opposed to this show, and in this sense it points to the failure of the revolution it was meant to embody. It doesn't come much more corporate than Tate, and the gallery shop with its Paik merchandise is its testament. I made my own little unintentional 'action' at the till whilst paying for a postcard by managing to knock a box of Tate badges flying scattershot across the floor...embarrassing, but somehow right.

Fluxus Manifesto - seen here

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