Video art imitates nature, not in its appearance or mass, but in its intimate "time-structure"... which is the process of AGING (a certain kind of irreversibility).
Among the first artists who were quick to recognize the value and need for the recognition of our era's electronic technology as a significant art medium, Paik Nam-June is the widest-ranging and most prolific artist. Paik's bold expression and free experimentation, which led him in a more avant-garde direction than his contemporaries, encompass one of the most significant bodies of work in the medium and his work is notable for its tremendous breadth and depth. Paik is widely recognized as a true pioneer, who made an enormous contribution to the development of video as an art form and the history of video art through his Fluxus-based performances, altered television sets of the early 1960s, the ground breaking videotapes and multi-media installations of the 1970s, humorous video robots of the 1980s and computer based new video images of the 1990s and 2000s.
Enlightenment 78 RPMs (Lot 2514) is a great example that illustrates Paik's core source of inspiration and philosophical approach to the work throughout his career: music and the Asian mind, Buddhism in this case. Paik grew up with music, playing piano since childhood. Paik had a particular fascination with the innovative work of Arnold Schoenberg, a noted avant-garde composer. Paik pursued his graduate study in music theory at the University of Munich and the Conservatory in Freiburg, Germany. Naturally, music became a crucial part of Paik's work both in terms of conception and execution (Fig. 1). In Enlightenment 78 RPMs, Paik assembled a vintage Victrola on a stand, replacing the original associations with antiques such as a record and books to a small Buddha statue, a TV monitor and lighting respectively. In this work, the Buddha revolves instead of the record, replacing or becoming music itself, at the same time symbolizing enlightenment, as the title articulates. It evokes TV Buddha from 1974 (Fig. 2), one of Paik's most celebrated pieces, in that both works employ a closed-circuit video camera to broadcast the Buddha. In TV Buddha, the Buddha silently observes himself on the screen transmitted from a camera placed behind the TV monitor. The Buddha faces himself in contemplation and the electronic gadgets become a tool for his deep meditation. It displays Paik's incisive thinking about television and technology in general along with his optimism, openness, and sense of humour. These valuable aspects of Paik's art distinguish him from artists in other media. Media experts have been given to criticizing TV as crass, superficial, and trivial, a pure product of capitalism that can never occupy a place in the great hall of true art. However, Paik makes an observation of an entirely different kind, believing that it is precisely television's openness, its centrality in our lives, and its constant, uninterrupted trickle of broadcast information that gives it even greater potential in developing art and culture. The message emphasized in Paik's work is that as long as technology such as television and computers are used in a humanistic way for our own advancement, it can create an ideal blend of technology and art that will bring greater diversity and richness to our culture. The creative intent behind Enlightenment 78 RPMs, its source and aesthetic grounding, embody the same vein of thought, which in the work achieves a mature and incisive realization. In this work a TV monitor, broadcasting the Buddha on the Victrola, replaces books, which are supposedly displayed in the stand and symbolize knowledge and enlightenment. Enlightenment 78 RPMs reminds us of Paik's interview with a magazine in 1969, "The real issue implied in 'Art and Technology' is not to make another scientific toy, but how to humanize the technology and the electronic medium, which is progressing rapidly. We will demonstrate the human use of technology, and also stimulate viewers NOT for something mean but stimulate their phantasy to look for the new, imaginative and humanistic ways of using our technology."
Though Paik is perhaps most widely recognized for his prodigious body of video sculptures like Enlightenment 78 RPMs, his experiments with satellite technology, which began in 1977 at Documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany, where he collaborated on a live telecast with Joseph Beuys and Douglas Davis, are significant trials as well to employ new technologies of the era. His live international satellite broadcasts of the 1980s, including Good Morning Mr. Orwell, Bye Bye Kipling, and Wrap Around the World are global video installations that conjoin disparate spatial, contextual and temporal elements. Linking the art world and the media, pop culture and the avant-garde, technology and philosophy, Paik's works resonate with an irreverent humour and subversive brilliance that have influenced contemporary art, video and television. Despite a stroke that debilitated Paik in 1996, he continued his artistic invention of new media such as laser and computer. His last retrospective exhibition, "The World of Nam June Paik," which announced the new millennium at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in February 2000, was the result of his restless effort to experiment with new mediums (Fig. 3). The splendid retrospective proved that Paik Nam-June wrote an entirely new page in the development of modern art, one that was aesthetically significant and historically pioneering. For that reason it influenced the following generations of subsequent artists, encouraging them to adopt non-traditional expressive media to present and interpret their visions of modern society and to explore even broader artistic spaces. Paik's work has deepened the artistic substance of Asian art with its uniqueness and rich cultural implications, but in terms of media art, and the development of modern art in general, he also examined issues that were international in nature and of broad humanistic concern, which made Paik a great 20th century artist, one of the few to achieve truly global influence.