Nam June Paik
metal, Lasermax, three television sets
height 123 cm ( 48 1/2 in.) width 84 cm (33 in.)
signed and dated on the left hook holding the tv, titled and dated on the laser disc
Nam June Paik’s untitled sculpture from 1994 belongs to the large group of “robots” in which Paik created mostly anthropomorphic figures out of television screens, playback devices, as well as sometimes cameras, furniture, and technical components, which antagonistically combine the illusionistic television image with three-dimensional figural depiction. Paik not only juxtaposes tradition and modernity, nature and culture—with the simultaneous intention of a cultural critique and a reconciliation of the new with the old—but also shows in these figures how markedly the individual’s and society’s perception of the world has changed and is influenced overall as a result of the media. The “robot” from 1994 has a fantastical, mythical appearance: the limbs made of monitors support a body on which a technoid balloon head with lenses for eyes gazes at the viewer. In its “hands” the figure carries two monitors, as if they were lanterns that light the way through the dark forest. What at first appears to be a long-pointed hat, which serves as an essential characteristic of the goblin-like figure, turns out to be a gramophone horn and refers to the early days of musical playback. The “robot” was created in the (beginning) golden age of music videos and music channels such as VIVA and MTV, and Paik contrasts the traditional, essentially individual experience of music with the rapid development of those years, which led to the collective, even visual presence of popular music. In light of the current transformation of large parts of society into a kind of mobile phone cyborgs—as a result of which most young people, as well as significant numbers of adults, experience their environment and communication only through the interface of their mobile phones—Nam June Paik’s critique of civilization in the form of this creature consisting only of media receivers seems almost painfully relevant.