Nam June Paik today

Koki Tanaka, Yuko Mohri, Samson Young and Ho Tzu Nyen pay tribute to the artist’s pervading influence

Nam June Paik, Zurich, 1991. Photo: Timm Rautert


Editor’s note: ArtReview has invited some artists to consider the legacy of Nam June Paik’s today. Some of these answers were first published in the October 2019 issue, while others appear here for the first time. 

Nam June Paik Action with a violin on a string
Action with a violin on a string, 1963, staged during Exposition of Music – Electronic Television

Koki Tanaka

How did you first encounter the work of Nam June Paik?
I think it was through TV Buddha, but not sure which one. I just googled it now, and find out there are so many different versions of TV Buddhas by Paik...

Do you have a favourite work?
His Action with Violin. He was withdrawing the string attached to the violin. B&W documentation that he was going away – so lonely in a vacant lot...

I guess it’s difficult to avoid his influence even you resist

Has his work influenced your own work directly or indirectly?
He was quite active in the avant-garde art scene in Japan. I saw the images of his actions and TV sculptures cropping up from time to time in museums in Japan. I guess it’s difficult to avoid his influence even you resist. His TV sculptures are always there like his closed circuit system.

Do you see his work as having an influence more widely today?
It’s getting wider, bigger. It swallows us all in the endless loop he created with TV Buddha – kitsch reincarnation…

Nam June Paik TV Cello
Magnet TV, 1965. © Estate of Nam June Paik. Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Yuko Mohri

I think Paik’s influence today is invisible and omnipresent, just like magnetism

I discovered Nam June Paik in the coursebook of the art class when I was 13 years old. Charlotte Moorman playing the cello on three piled-up televisions. It was really cool. There was a picture of the Fountain by Duchamp just next to it. I remember these two pieces altogether. These pictures made me feel an affinity with the art for the first time. But my favourite Paik work today would no doubt be Magnet TV!!! When I was an art school student, I wanted to make such a piece, using magnetic force that is invisible, can be found anywhere – just like Paik – but the work looked so powerful that I thought I couldn’t realise anything more than this… Anyway, it is one of my ‘source books’ that nourishes my current practice. I think Paik is one of the artists who directly influenced me. We can also see his works a lot in the Asia where I live and, especially, I think his way of using materials is very influential to me. How his sense of humour shows up in the materials used for his works… When I visited the Nam June Paik Art Center in Korea in 2013, I was shocked by his Two for One Violin, beautifully arranged the obsolete and broken parts of violins, after being used for his performance. I think Paik’s influence today is invisible and omnipresent, just like magnetism. It could be compared to the concept of being/non-being from the Buddhist view of the world. Paik, everywhere!

Nam June Paik Magnet TV
Charlotte Moorman with TV Cello and TV Eyeglasses, 1971, photograph, gelatin silver print. © Estate of Nam June Paik

Samson Young

I actually knew him first as a composer, and that’s still how I think of him

At college we read about Paik’s work (though in passing and always in relation to Cage), so I actually knew him first as a composer, and that’s still how I think of him. But the first time I actually saw a work of his in person was at the Daejeon Museum of Art in Korea where right by the entrance there was this gigantic TV sculpture (Fractal Turtleship) that wasn’t switched on. My favourite work would have to be the TV Cello, of course. Paik has had a great influence on my work. These days there are many composers crossing into other disciplines, but it took some balls back in his day. I mean, the guy wrote a whole thesis on Arnold Schoenberg and composed 12-tone music, so he was as straight-down-the-centre a composer as they come. He really paved the way and enabled a lot of what I allow myself to do. And I’ve always thought that the fact that the Paik is celebrated in the contemporary artworld but still largely ignored in the contemporary music speaks volume about the conservatism and maybe even racism that prevails in the concert world.

Nam June Paik, TV Buddha
TV Buddha, 1997, video camera, TV monitor, buddha head, iron tub, earth, dimensions variable. Photo: Egbert Haneke/flickr.com

Ho Tzu Nyen

I guess his works have become something like air… some kind of necessity that we had to pass through

I can’t remember exactly when, or where, I first came across the work of Nam June Paik, but I am almost completely sure it was in print, when I was a student. Without a doubt, however, my favourite work of his is TV Buddha – which manages with the simplest of elements and the clearest of structure to evoke an unending chain of associations in its cybernetic recursivity. It is at once devout and ironic, spiritual and base, of the past and the present. While I do not recall ever having consciously thought of Nam June Paik’s work in relation to my own, his works have become something like air… and I guess I don’t really think very often about the air I breathe, except in those rare moments I stop to meditate, like the camera looking at the Buddha looking at the television looking back at the Buddha. The field of Nam June Paik’s activities were so wide and so far-reaching that I think they have gone beyond influence to becoming some kind of necessity that we had to pass through. 

A retrospective of Nam June Paik’s work is on view at Tate Modern through 9 February 2020

Further reading: Juliet Jacques on Nam June Paik’s revolutionary work Good Morning, Mr Orwell

Published online on 18 October 2019