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Get into the Global Groove:
Nam June Paik in the Deutsche Guggenheim




Nam June Paik: Global Groove, 1973, Video Still
Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix © Electronic Arts Intermix

Nam June Paik is a pioneer of the electronic media. John Cage, Paik’s teacher, also found that Marshall McLuhan’s vision of the ”global village” from 1962 signified the nearly total mediatization of the world. Ever since the sixties, Paik has been seeking new and innovative forms to express this vision in his video works, objects, and installations. In his current exhibition ”Global Groove 2004” in the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, Paik is presenting a new multiple-monitor installation that combines his video experiments from four decades with a high-speed cut-up comprised of pop music, performance footage, and manipulated television imagery. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf on Paik’s call for global communication, the democratization of the media, and his vision of a TV art station with worldwide broadcasting.


Nam June Paik, 1986.
Photo: Rainer Rosenow

”I had no difficulty being Korean in America. We were thinking in terms of numbers. This virgin land here was so big that I didn’t have a problem. I could go anywhere. I wanted to do everything. I was like an elephant in a china shop. I could break everything.” Nam June Paik arrived in his adopted country in 1963; in retrospect, the words he used in an interview for the NY Arts Magazine in 2000 to describe this time convey something of the mood of excitement surrounding him as one of the most promising artists of his generation.

At the same time, this statement seems exemplary for the life work of a man who never shrank back from conventions and ingrained habits. No one can compete with the influence he’s had on subsequent generations of media artists. Global Groove 2004, Paik’s most recent video installation at Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, gives a good idea of the uproar Paik’s multimedia art unleashed in the sixties and seventies. Borrowing from the title of Paik’s legendary video Global Groove from 1973, in which he propagated the vision of an art television station with worldwide broadcasting, Paik’s current work feeds on earlier single-track videos and TV productions, harking back to his first video works from the mid-sixties.
In a dynamic environment of TV-screen walls and monitor groupings, the visitor is confronted with a visual flood of altered TV imagery and video sequences. A retrospective insight into Paik’s artistic work becomes coupled with the collective memories of decades of global television: dancers moving in time to rock music, Pepsi commercials, drumming Navajo Indians, psychedelic swirls of color, the grotesquely distorted face of Richard Nixon , footage from contemporary news coverage, game shows, and soaps – and, again and again, the bodies and voices of those musicians, writers, and artists that wrote history together with Paik himself crystallize out of this dizzying spin: John Cage, Merce Cunningham, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg , Karlheinz Stockhausen, the New York Living Theatre, the cellist and performer Charlotte Moorman.


Nam June Paik: Global Groove, 1973, Video Still
Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix © Electronic Arts Intermix


As an homage to the video art of the past decades, Global Groove 2004 combines the continuous reworking and remix of Paik’s own video productions and the films and videos of other artists with reflections on the utopias they convey. "This is a glimpse of a new world, when you will be able to switch on every TV channel in the world and TV guides will be as thick as the Manhattan telephone book.” This sentence, spoken off camera, introduced the original version of Global Groove in the early seventies; in view of the technological change that’s occurred since, it almost comes across as touching. This fleeting glimpse at a long-ago world of tomorrow also inevitably becomes a look at yesterday’s artistic conceptions of the future. While the internet and television are becoming increasingly intertwined, and the digital information of the New York telephone book can be shrunk to the size of a microchip, Paik’s call for democratization and the de-monopolization of electronic media are as up to date today as they were then. ”Groove” is a highly ambivalent term. In light of the word’s meaning as a trail or track in a record, ”groove” can suggest both a beaten path whose monotony one has become caught in (”stuck in a groove”) or a joyful call to take part, to relax and join in: ”Get into the Groove!”

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