03 January 2015
What's up for two more days, v. XXIV
Nam June Paik at the Asia Society fills up the entire gallery space of the museum, but as previously noted in this space, it's not much considering the many Paik holdings in nearby places and their permanent collection is not to be found amid such shows. The show focuses on his development of the robot, and fans of Paik's are treated to some of his earliest videos and has later 80s robots, which utilize carefully matched antique sets for robots ending with a large Li Po (above). As one enters a large video screen plays his 31 yo - almost to the day - one hour US/France mass market TV broadcast of Good Morning Mr. Orwell which I had never seen* including his films of Cage and Cunningham along with art pop luminaries.
Paik, to the NYTimes: ''I never read Orwell's book - it's boring. But he was the first media communications prophet. Orwell portrayed television as a negative medium, useful to dictators for one-way communication. Of course, he was half-right. Television is still a repressive medium. It controls you in many ways. You tend to adapt your schedule to it, and also you get from it stereotyped images.
''But,'' he continued, gesturing with an arm on which a shirt cuff flapped listlessly open, ''I want to show its potential for interaction, its possibilities as a medium for peace and global understanding. It can spread out, cross international borders, provide liberating information, maybe eventually punch a hole in the Iron Curtain.''
That last phrase speaks to the location of Orwell's 1984 dystopia in the Soviet Union - spoken less than a year President Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech at the height of US-Soviet tensions. By coincidence, Raymond Williams wrote his book about television (1973) two years after his book on Orwell (1971), in which he said "the structural relations that we have since seen between a militarist economy and a controlled consumer affluence amount to more than a historical development that Orwell did not forsee." "Television" recalls "[The 1920s small family home] created both the need and the form of a new kind of 'communication': news from 'outside', from otherwise inaccessible sources. Already in the drama of the 1880s and 1890s (Ibsen, Chekhov) this structure had appeared: the center of dramatic interest was now for the first time the family home, but men and women stared from its windows, or waited anxiously for messages, to learn about forces, 'out there,' which would determine the conditions of their lives.. Some people spoke of the the new machines (radios) as gadgets, but they were always more than this. They were the applied technology of a set of emphasis and responses within the determining limits and pressures of industrial capitalist society." (27) Neither book addresses directly Orwell's view of the medium. Paik is credited for predicting the internet; people watching their friends' videos on their phones, transmitted by sattelite has created an operative decentralization at a time when military imperialism has refined its use of media for propagandizing. While the newspapers would be unlikely to publish the Pentagon Papers today, Assange and Snowden demystify centralized narratives from a transmission of their own making and become featured themselves in mainstream media, leading to a legislative vote that almost strips the NSA of its funding for surveillence.** Ginsberg and Beuys' music are featured in Good Morning but devoid of political statement, even as Beuys' "Sonne Statt Reagan" came out less than two years earlier "Ob Polen"..
Around the corner "Paik's possibly most famous video work".. "meant the Buddha now watched his videotaped image on the screen opposite".. "During the 'Projekt '74' exhibition in Cologne, Paik took the Buddha’s place in his recent creation.." Kay Larson suggests in her recent book about Cage that the rigor of Paik's Buddhism was enforced by John more than Paik's Korean upbringing, after Paik had cut the tie of his mentor during a piano performance, annoying Cage, a performance I saw Walter Lew amusingly re-enact with Aldon Nielson's wardrobe a while back. "Cage made it explicitly clear that Paik had no interest in seeing the truth contained in Suzuki's diagram on ego,*** much less in practicing the kind of discipline that had defined Cage's life and path." Cage did gush over Paik but this is perhaps another de Toquevillian case of the American selecting out spiritual content that another would associate with theocracy. Larson paraphrases Cage's early 60s Darmstadt lecture on Indeterminacy "Dualism is a serious intellectual flaw, from the Mahayana Buddhist standpoint, since it perpetuates the ego's sense that a world exists apart from the self. In Cage's recollection, dualistic thinking is a painful product of a mind divided against itself." Buddha TV, created a few years later, can be imagined as a provocative response to Cage's charge that Paik lacked consciousness of this dualism, showing the world that includes the sitter (Rodin's Thinker is another Paik subject) on the screen as Paik would affirm the usefulness of the medium.
* T'was up just a day or two ago but has a copyright block now;
** but doesn't; in the federal bailout vote, the two parties traded off which representatives would risk their incumbancy by voting for it since the calls came in against it 10-1, but assured its passage;
*** The ego described as the egg shell between the chick and the world that forms, in two dimensions, an unenclosed circle, filled with emotional content.