Nam June Paiks Global Groove (1973)
  • Nam June Paik’s Global Groove (1973)

Before attending the David Bowie exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, I was unaware that Bowie had collaborated on a music video in the 1980s with Nam June Paik. I wasn’t surprised to learn of this collaboration, however. Paik, who died in 2006 at the age of 74, is widely considered to be the godfather of video art. His groundbreaking work from the 1960s and ’70s introduced a range of devices to the new medium of video, such as stroboscopic effects, closed-feedback loops, and the use of magnets to deform how the images appeared on TV sets. Bowie, of course, has always looked to the art world for inspiration (the MCA exhibit makes reference to a number of postwar avant-gardists). In hindsight it seems practically inevitable that he would turn to Paik when he embarked on his own video-making endeavors.

In a 1982 Village Voice essay (reprinted in his collection Vulgar Modernism), critic J. Hoberman described Paik as “the D.W. Griffith of video art.” He continued:

Like Griffith, who applied the narrative devices of Charles Dickens to five-cent peep shows, Paik brought his knowledge of a more highfalutin art form, namely the electronic music of [Karlheinz] Stockhausen and [John] Cage, to bear on a brand-new medium. Structurally, Paik’s videotapes derive from the audio-taped musique concret sound collages he was making in Europe before Cage deflected him toward performance. On the other hand, Paik (like Griffith) is a populist. But whereas Griffith cribbed from Victorian stock melodrama, Paik swipes from TV spots.

Among the artist’s achievements is popularizing the term “information superhighway” back in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, you can now find much of his work online. Below I’ve included a three-minute excerpt from one of his most famous works, Global Groove (1973), as well as the entirety of Good Morning Mr. Orwell (1984), a piece of “live science fiction” that features cameos from Laurie Anderson, Oingo Boingo, Allen Ginsberg, and Merce Cunningham. You can find a lot more at YouTube, if you feel like turning your laptop into a makeshift gallery.

YouTube video

YouTube video