Nam June Paik, Performing La Monte Young’s “Composition 1960 No. 10” to Bob Morris (Zen for Head), (1962)
Presented during the Fluxus International Festival of New Music, this performance was Paik’s interpretation of La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 No.10 dedicated to artist Robert Morris who was quoted saying, “Draw a Straight Line and Follow it”. Paik’s performance consisted of him dipping his head, hands and tie in a bowl of ink and tomato juice and drawing a line by dragging his head along a narrow piece of paper laid out on the floor. Fluxus was concerned with carrying out deceptively simple actions in order to concentrate on the subtlety of a gesture, bringing about a fusion of art with life. In Zen for Head, Paik parodies the notion of meditative art-making by physically enacting a painting gesture using the body as a tool rather than the repository of mental or spiritual processes. The head, the source of creative thinking, becomes the mark maker, actively engaged in the process of material and action.
On Election Day, we’re thinking of Nam June Paik’s rendition of the American flag!
A flag is instantly recognizable on this 7-by-12-foot bank of 70 monitors, in which stars and stripes share air time with split-second news stills, rotating statues of Liberty, endless runs of ones and zeros (the binary language of computers), and a face that morphs through every U.S. president from Harry S. Truman to Bill Clinton.
Paik was an important pioneer in the development of video installation art. Trained in music theory, piano, and electronic music, Paik began his career as a performance artist and avant-garde musician. In the early 1960s he made his first “altered TVs” in which he manipulated television signals with magnets and used video feedback, synthesizers, and other technology to produce kaleidoscopic shapes and luminous colors.