Nam June Paik's reputation as one of the most unique artists of the 20th century is related to his ability to operate within different disciplines and languages, combining media technology with art to emphasize creativity and otherness.
This ability stems from a longstanding nomadic life that began with being born in Seoul in 1932 during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Born to a wealthy family, Paik went to middle school in Seoul and Hong Kong and, after the Korean War, he moved to Japan where he graduated from high school in Kamakura, near Tokyo. The experience of living in this sacred Buddhist place, the head temple of Zen, contributed greatly to Paik's spiritual foundation. Paik continued his studies at Tokyo University's School of Humanity where he graduated and presented his dissertation on Schoenberg's music. From 1956 onwards, he studied aesthetics, specializing in European philosophy and modern music at the Universities of Munich and Cologne.
In the late 1950's, Nam June Paik would become part of a group of artists exploring pioneer practices in performance and video art. In 1958, Paik met John Cage in Germany. This meeting inspired him to expand his interest in Zen Buddhism and New Music into the realm of avant-garde art. Nam June Paik performed with Stockhausen, in Germany and held his first exhibition 1959 - Hommage a John Cage - Musik fuer Tonbaender und Klavier - at the Galerie 22 in Dusseldorf. Later, his performances of breaking a piano and cutting off John Cage's necktie shocked the audience. In these performances Paik attackec and refused the bourgeois culture of the time. This led him to collaborate with Fluxus members who shared the same ideals, such as George Maciunas. From the early 1960s onwards Paik would perform with members of Fluxus, Joseph Beuys and other like-minded artists.
In 1963, Paik customized and exhibited thirteen TVs, along with dead bull's head, at Parnass Gallery in Wuppertal, Germany. This exhibition historically marks the first time when actual TV sets were exhibited as art. Upon returning to Tokyo, Nam June Paik sought the help of Japanese engineer Shuya Abe, to develop methods to manipulate the scanning lines of a TV by using the machines own inner working system.
Moving to the USA in 1964, Nam June Paik met Charlotte Moorman, a collaborator with whom he would go on to develop and realize performance ideas he had been unable to stage in Europe. Aware of American society's taboo regarding sex, Paik performed Opera Sextronique with Charlotte Moorman. The performance was stopped by the police, Paik detained, and Moorman arrested for public obscenity. Paik produced several objects for Charlotte Moorman, including TV Bra and TV Cello. These objects assembled into one unit music, electronic media, and the body. Video art, developed from Paik's own concept of musical visualization, creatively combined the media and art into what was to become Paik's unique artistic genre.
Nam June Paik's unique usage of visual images represented an awareness of the merging of technology and human spirit. Zen in <TV Buddha>, the essence of play in <Participation TV> and shamanism in <Scythian King, Dan Gun> are a few examples that show Paik's insights into the history of civilization, questioning and exploring the future of technology. After his <Good Morning Mr. Orwell> in 1984, avant-garde artists and pop artists gathered every two years and held a global festival through satellite TV. <Bye-bye Kippling> and <Hand in Hand> resulted from these gatherings, celebrating Nam June Paik's 'open mindedness toward the world.' As Allan Kaprow noted,'Nam June Paik was the most modern artist among us.'