Photo by Timothy Holm
KBCE was honoured to be invited by UK distributor Dogwoof to attend a premiere screening of the new documentary Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV at the Victoria & Albert Museum on May 10, with a special Q&A featuring the director and editor of the film hosted by V&A exhibition curator ('Hallyu! The Korean Wave'), Rosalie Kim.
Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV is a captivating and enlightening documentary that explores the life and work of one of the most influential and visionary artists of the 20th century. Nam June Paik (백남준), often called the 'father of video art', was a pioneer of using television sets, video cameras, and electronic devices as artistic mediums, creating stunning and provocative installations, performances, and sculptures that challenged the conventions and boundaries of art and communication.
The documentary, skillfully directed by Korean-American Amanda Kim in her feature debut, traces Paik’s journey from his birth in Korea in 1932, during the Japanese occupation, to his death in 2006, one year before the first iPhone was released.
Paik studied music and art history in Seoul before moving to Germany to study musicology and philosophy. It was there that he became interested in avant-garde art and met other artists who would shape his career, including artist Joseph Beuys and composer John Cage.
Further on, we witness his encounters with other important figures such as cellist Charlotte Moorman and Yoko Ono, his involvement with the Fluxus movement in New York, his experiments with manipulating TV signals and images, his collaborations with global broadcasters and satellite networks, and his visionary predictions of a future where technology would enable everyone to have their own TV channel and express their creativity (which sounds a lot like what YouTube is today).
The documentary features extensive archive footage from Paik’s performances and exhibitions (hundreds of hours have been expertly edited down), as well as original interviews with his contemporaries, collaborators, and admirers. It also includes a voiceover narration of Paik’s writings, read by executive producer Steven Yeun (well-known for his acting roles in Minari, Nope, and the recent Beef on Netflix), which reveal his philosophical insights, poetic sensibilities, and his unexpected sense of humour.
The film is a tribute to Paik’s legacy as an artist who transformed television from a passive medium into an active and interactive one, who saw the potential of technology to connect people across cultures and continents, and who inspired generations of artists to explore new forms of expression and communication.
Image courtesy of Dogwoof Releasing
Paik's work was groundbreaking in many ways, and the documentary does an excellent job of highlighting his many achievements. Perhaps most notably, Paik was the first artist to use television as an artistic medium, creating sculptures and installations using TVs and other electronic equipment. This led to him being a pioneer of video art, creating a number of iconic works that blended performance, music, and technology, often with controversial results.
Throughout the documentary, we see Paik's work evolve and mature, from his early experiments with amateur robots, TV sets and tape recorders to his later, more complex installations. The film also features interviews with artists and curators who knew Paik personally which adds a lot to its feeling of authenticity. Paik's famous work 'TV Buddha' (in which a Buddha statue stares at an image of itself on a television screen) seems to be the general favourite of his colleagues and admirers.
Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV is a fascinating and engaging look at the life and work of a truly visionary artist. Paik's influence can be seen in the work of countless contemporary artists, and this film is an excellent introduction to his legacy. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the intersection of art and technology in particular. It is a film that celebrates Paik’s ceaseless innovations and disruptions, his playful and provocative spirit, and his timeless message that '[the] moon is the oldest TV.'
The film will be officially released in UK cinemas from May 19. For ticket info, please see the distributor Dogwoof's website: https://releasing.dogwoof.com/nam-june-paik
And here is a trailer for the film:
-Timothy Holm for the KBCE