‘X_sound‘ pays tribute to worlds two masters
By Noh Hyun-gi
Before he shocked the world with towers of piled up televisions and piano-bashing performances, Nam June Paik was a composer and pianist. His creative world had evolved through an encounter with John Cage, an experimental composer and music theorist who staged the silent composition “4′33.″
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Cage’s birth and the 80th anniversary of Paik’s birth – an occasion Paik had wanted to wait for to pay tribute to his greatest inspiration. Though Paik passed away in 2006, the Nam June Paik Art Center is carrying on his wish by holding a special commemorative exhibit, “x_sound: John Cage, Nam June Paik and After.” This exhibition focuses on the friendship between the great minds and their lasting influence on young artists that continues today.
The first part of the exhibit showcases Paik’s pieces inspired by Cage. Paik staged “Hommage à John Cage, Music for Tapes and Piano” in 1958, a year after Cage presented “Music Walk” in Jean-Pierre Wilhelm's Galerie 22, Düsseldorf, Germany. “Cage in Cage” is a witty installation where a television shows the American pianist in action inside a birdcage; Paik wanted to express Cage’s relentless efforts to break the rules and expectations of the art community.
Clips of articles Paik wrote to introduce Cage to Korea and Japan, his letters on New Music and the Minimalist movement, as well as excerpts from Cage’s book “A Year from Monday” on Paik all testify to their creative bond.
The sensational "Good Morning, Mr. Orwell," (1984) the first international satellite work by Paik , was one of the highlights of their collaboration.
Paik linked broadcasters in Korea, Germany, New York, and Paris live via satellite to air live and taped clips, and Cage produced music for the event by stroking needles of dried cactus plants with a feather. Many renowned experimentalists like Philip Glasse participated, and the show attracted over 25 million viewers worldwide.
Though both daring, the two differed in their realms of practice and this is clearly shown in Paik’s “Klavier Integarl” and Cage’s “Prepared Piano.” “Klavier Integral” refers to the four pianos presented at Paik’s first solo show in Germany. The instruments are decorated with random objects like light bulbs and a bra and partly destroyed objects. As Paik’s signature pieces, they aim to offer not only an auditory experience but also visual and tactile ones. The art center shows a photo of the ground breaking work taken by Manfred Montwe in 1963.
On the other hand, “Prepared Piano” is a modification of an ordinary piano using nails, screws, and wooden sticks placed on and between the strings. Cage intended to incorporate noise and chance into music. A replica of Cage’s piece by pianist Chung Sun-in as well as a video of her performance is on display.
Defining the relationship between Paik and Cage was the most challenging task for curators Ahn So-young, Lee Su-young, and Lee Che-young. “It is not a simple mentor-mentee hierarchy,” Lee Su-young explained. “They encouraged, critiqued and challenged each other. Also, in the end, Paik breaks out of music and invents video art while Cage remained in music.”
“TV Piano” from 1998 on display shows Paik’s intention to expand music through media. Monitors are connected through a piano which feeds surrounding images and sounds.
The avant-garde masters influenced generations of artists who experimented with the boundaries of music. The 12 artists participating in this show have investigated the role of sound beyond the realm of composed music and their interplay with space and objects.
Other parts of the exhibit include Haroon Mirza’s “Backfade 5 (Dancing Queen).” A dark room is filled with various sounds from a speaker and the thumping of a coin that is bouncing off the sound system due to the air vibrations. The recipient of the Silver Lion for promising young artists at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011 has also installed LED bulbs along the wall to light up periodically and to add noise as the electromagnetic waves flow through the space.
Yuko Mohri’s sound installation “Ofuna Flower” integrates everyday items such as a light switch, dusters, and plastic toys she has collected. The Japanese artist refers to those objects as “record medium,” meaning these are relics of her memory.
The exhibition runs through June 1 at the Nam June Paik Art Center in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province. For more information, call (031) 201-8500 or visit http://www.njpartcenter.kr.