Nam June Paik’s ‘TV garden’ can seem like a dystopian nightmare. A dark room filled with TV’s nestled within a sea of living house plants, all seemingly glaring at you. The digital and natural worlds collide, and upon a closer look, they are brought together in a very purposeful way.
Nam June Paik is an artist well-associated to the 20th-century technologies of mass media. He’s hailed as the ‘father of video art’ and for good reason. The TV garden feels particularly fitting for today’s always-on era, so it comes as a surprise to know that it was created in the 1970’s. It’s part of a major exhibition dedicated to the work of the Korean-born artist at the Tate Modern in London.
Paik’s status is both confirmed and questioned in the vast retrospective. The artist’s career proves him to be a thoughtful experimenter through and through, but also someone that understood the need in breaking apart the technology that he was working with. Paik often embraced new technology and used it to bring together the old world and the new, as well as the East and the West, most prominently seen by his placing a flickering candle inside the shell of a TV set.
Elsewhere, Paik proves to be as relevant today as ever, especially with the statue of Buddha that appears to be watching itself on a CCTV camera monitor. We now use mobile phone apps to help us meditate but the idea of using technology to help us relax must have been considered alien only a few years ago, let alone when Paik was creating his works decades ago. Paik was creating works as early as the 1950’s back when everyone was wrapping their heads around how our relationship with tech would evolve.
The exhibit ends on a rather high note with an intense installation called ‘Sistine Chapel’, where projectors hanging off a scaffold pointed in all directions, creating a sense of assault by several images and a cacophony of sound. It was first shown in 1993 to describe the information overload we all suffer today, way before the smart phone was introduced and long before the information overload increased exponentially with each passing year.
Nam June Paik is on at Tate Modern from 17 October 2019 to 9 February 2020. Tickets are £13 for adults.