Hans Neuman on 11 Feb 2001 23:38:00 -0000

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<nettime> [Fwd: Tilman Baumgaertel <tilman_baumgaertel@csi.com> (by way of alex galloway <alex@rhizome.org>)]

"I am a communication artist"--Interview with Nam June Paik

[Nam June Paik has been labeled the "father of video art." What is much
less known is that he was not only the creator of the much-abused term
"telecommunication superhighway," but also among the first to use
telecommunication satellites for artistic exchange. His satellite
performances "Good Morning Mr Orwell," "Wrap around the world" and
bye Kipling" brought together artists such as David Bowie, Laurie
Anderson, John Cage, Joseph Beuys, Charlotte Moorman and others to
perform together. These pieces can be seen as early exemples of net art.
The following interview was conducted by telephone. Nam June Paik was
reached in Florida, where he spends the winter away from his home in New
York City.]

+ + +

Tilman Baumgärtel: Your art has a lot to do with the abuse of
technology. With "Participation TV" the viewers can warp the image, with
your video synthesizer it was possible to manipulate moving images...

Nam June Paik: Yes. The video synthesizer was actually somehow the
beginning of the Internet....

TB: Oh. Why?

NJP: Because you were able to create media content for yourself, like
you can do on the Internet now. It is very important to make media
yourself. Now with PC and Internet we have a better chance of doing
something. Now people are talking about a hybrid, half computer and half
TV, that can receive many hundred TV stations. If that happens I will
soon be able to buy my own TV station licence and broadcast my video art
from some super computer through that station every day.

TB: You coined the term "information superhighway." Do you think that
you got the right credit for it?

NJP: Yes, I think I got enough credit. I used the term in a study I
wrote for the Rockefeller Foundation in 1974. I thought: if you create a
highway, then people are going to invent cars. That's dialectics. If you
create electronic highways, something has to happen.

TB: But what gave you this idea?

NJP: I knew that something along that line would happen. I did a lot of
electronic music in Cologne in 1958 and '59 for the WDR, and because
I spend so much time at that radio station I was very familiar with that
kind of telecommunication technology.

TB: And now? Do you use the computer yourself? Do you surf the Internet?

NJP: I have a small site on the World Wide Web. But I am 68 now, and my
eyes have become bad in the last three years. I can't read the small
letters on the screen. And I never learned to type. I think we need
moving pictures on the Internet that are larger, of good quality and in
real-time. Now we have very small moving pictures that take 15 minutes
to download. I think when optic fibre goes around the world we will have
moving pictures very soon, and then the Internet will be more exciting.

TB: But even without big images people use the Internet to

NJP: I think the Internet is very exciting, because you can collaborate
with other people all over the world. It is almost like a string
-four people playing together. We can do this kind of thing on the
Internet. And from contact new things can emerge.

I think that the internet will finally bring the revolution in China.
And when there is a revolution in China, it will also happen in North
Korea. Internet is a great hope for all people in the countries that are
still communist. China cannot live without computers and Internet.
Everybody in China will want a computer and Internet access, and than
they will want to have freedom. So George Orwell was wrong after all,
when he wrote "1984." He didn't forsee the Internet.

TB: A lot of your former students are working with the Internet now...

NJP: Yes, that's good. I think that the Internet is a very important
medium for the arts. There is a whole new video art on the Internet. The
different art forms are merging: video and literature, graphics and
music. The Internet makes a new kind of art possible--net art.

TB: Are you interested in creating art on the Internet?

NJP: No, I am old now. I am happy that I have done something at all. But
I don't have to do everything in the world, and maybe then it is not
even good. If you are too perfect, god gets angry at you. I have to be

TB: In the '80s you were among the first artists to use satellites for
worldwide performances. Today this seems like an early example of net

NJP: That was a very big success. I was working with a lot of stars,
like David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. It was exciting. Organizing it was
the hard part. At that time were the Olympics in Korea, so some money
was available from the Korean broadcasting system, so we were able to do
it. And we had friends at all the other TV stations, like Manfred Eichel
at WDR. All these contacts helped me a lot.

TB: But why use satellites in the first place for an art broadcast?

NJP: Satellites were used in the applied art, but not for high art. I
wanted to use it for high art, and see as an artist what I could do with
it. I wanted to create high art with new materials. I wanted to work
with the temporal element of the popular arts, the rhythm which is so
important in video art. Also, satellites were used by the military, and
I wanted to us them for pacifistic purposes: performances, dance, music,
video art...

TB: Do you think that this kind of global communication can help
pacifistic purposes?

NJP: Yes. Satellites can be made into a tool for world peace, like in
situations in Rawanda or Yugoslavia. Through the satellite this kind of
conflict becomes a world affair, and gets a lot of sympathy from the
people all around the world. So it can stop the war.

TB: Your first satellite piece "Good morning Mr Orwell" was announced as
"Art for 10 million people," because that was the potential number of
viewers for this show. Was it important to you to reach as many people
as possible with your art?

NJP: Yes, I want to be popular. I am a communication artist, so I have
to communicate with my audience.

TB: I understand you work with laser now?

NJP: Yes, we want to make a laser cathedral for John Cage at the P.S. 1
in Queens. I want it to look like Notre Dame, and we can perform John
Cage's music there and broadcast it via satellite.

In 2012 is the hundredth birthday of John Cage, and I would like to rent
the Carnegie Hall and to make a big festival for him. John Cage was in
Germany very often. I want to have one German group in Cologne, and I
want to participate via Satellite in New York. And maybe there can be
other participants in Berlin or Seoul or Moscow.

TB: What attracted you to work with laser?

NJP: Laser has a kind of new mystique, a psychological effect on the
viewer. After my stroke I feel that one part of me is already in another
kind of world. Laser has a connection to a more spiritual world. It is
kind of a continuation of the video art, but the good thing about it is
that you cannot show it on TV.


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