Nam June Paik – Transnational Networks of Video Art

Vuk Vuković – University of Pittsburgh


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Transnational Networks of Video Art

In the inaugural issue of Radical Software, an early journal on the use of video as an artistic and political medium, Korean-born artist Nam June Paik (1932–2006) contributed a short essay in which he wrote:

As a citizen of Korea, a minority nation in the minority continent, therefore necessarily a cynical observer, who picked up three Western and three Eastern languages during eighteen years of wandering from Hong Kong via Cairo to Reykjavik, I am particularly sensitive about the East-West problem. Edwin O. Reischauer, formerly Ambassador for America to Japan called for sweeping renewal on this subject, from elementary schools on, and surely East-West communication is the biggest task of communications research. A professor in Kyoto University wrote “if West knows about East only one-tenth of what East knows about West, there will be no war.”[1]

Paik’s thinking on global communication networks indicates his early understanding of the power of transnational and transcultural exchanges, both of which would become essential to his video works such as Global Groove (1973) and the trilogy of satellite projects, Good Morning, Mr. Orwell (1984), Bye Bye Kipling (1986), and Wrap Around the World (1988). By examining Paik’s attempts to develop a worldwide communication network, I will demonstrate how Paik provided a model for transnational artmaking that centers on video art as a personal visual instrument accessible to all. In this way, this essay will act as an addition to the presentation I gave as part of the “The Crazies are on the Loose – Fluxus Global/Diverse” symposium organized by the Museum Ostwall at the Dortmunder U on June 22, 2023.

Paik is widely regarded as a pioneer in using television and video as media for creative artistic expression. However, the distinctive feature of Paik’s works are his transnational networks comprising of individuals and institutions that helped realize his border crossing works. By uncovering networks often overlooked by mainstream art history due to the fixation on Paik as a single genius artist, I will reveal individuals and institutions who welcomed Paik into their networks. Upon arriving to the United States in 1964, Paik began working with the avant-garde cellist Charlotte Moorman, who would become the key player of his practice across most of his transnational works, including Global Groove and Good Morning, Mr. Orwell.[2] Moorman, who had trained at Julliard, was drawn into the experimental art scene by her roommate, Yoko Ono, who already had an established relationship with Paik through the Fluxus network.[3] Shigeko Kubota, on the other hand, began supporting Paik’s experimental projects in the early 1960s in New York, eventually marrying the artist in the 1970s and sustaining his artistic endeavors until his death in 2006. As Michael Rush notes, “In a sense, Kubota had two life companions: Paik and her camera.”[4] The support of various artists showcases their belief in Paik’s vision and commitment to a medium that created new ways to infiltrate the art world dominated by predominantly white men. Paik was aware of these dynamics, and he used his works to create new opportunities for marginalized communities, including himself as an Asian man living in the United States during the Anti-Asian sentiment, which was mainly the result of the Red Scare and McCarthyism.[5] While this might be true, the social injustices and inequality did not stop Paik from pursuing innovative projects with diverse collaborators and funding institutions. The works this essay considers had major social and institutional support as they were all logistically difficult to create. Global Groove, the first work in which Paik thematized global communications, was his breakthrough work that sparked a sequence of projects that grew larger in scale, vision, and ambition, reaching millions of viewers across the world.

Produced in 1973 in collaboration with engineer John Godfrey at WNET’s Artists’ Television Laboratory, Global Groove presents a comprehensive view of culture that characterized Paik’s approach to disseminating video art through public television broadcast. To Paik, Global Groove transformed the broadcast studio into an experimental venue for international dancers, musicians, and performance artists to reach wider audiences beyond the museum galleries. Paik had many collaborators in the video ranging from the Navajo performance artist Cecelia Sandoval to Korean choreographer Suck Ok Lee, who used Global Groove as a stage to showcase their rich and often misrepresented cultures through Paik’s transnational broadcasts. In his essay, “Global Groove and Video Common Market,” Paik claimed, “if we could assemble a weekly television festival comprised of music and dance from every nation and disseminate it freely via the proposed Video Common Market to the world, its effects on education and entertainment would be phenomenal. Peace can be as exciting as a John Wayne war movie. The tired slogan of ‘world peace’ will again become fresh and marketable.”[6] In this way, Global Groove became one of his earliest works thematizing global communication, but it was only the predecessor to the rich multi-channel works that would connect and expand his transnational networks of video art.

On January 1, 1984, employing the satellite technology to connect the public broadcast station WNET in New York with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Paik broadcasted Good Morning, Mr. Orwell to 25 million people across the world. As the title suggests, this work is a rebuttal of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 as Paik used the satellite technology as a liberating medium capable of crossing international borders and bridging cultural gaps. In this way, Good Morning, Mr. Orwell “provides an opportunity to examine the role of the artist as the producer, the accessibility of new media to artists, and the influence of network policy on the aesthetics and the content of work.”[7] To achieve his vision, Paik had many artists join the project, including Laurie Anderson, Peter Gabriel, Merce Cunningham, Charlotte Moorman, Joseph Beuys, and John Cage, among others, who used the platform to show their avant-garde performances to the global audience. Several well-known artists, including Cage, Cunningham, and Moorman were “paid minimal wage (under $500) out of friendship for Paik – and on the condition that the program wouldn’t be sold to commercial television.”[8] Their generosity in joining Paik’s project on a minimum wage demonstrates their engagement with the work and friendship with the artist, further emphasizing the significance of his social networks. Thus, while scholars often focus on the rich visuals in Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, what often gets overlooked are the social and institutional networks Paik gathered over the years to make the project possible. 

As evident from the opening credits, Good Morning, Mr. Orwell received support from the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation, all funding institutions are based out of the United States. In fact, both Global Groove and Good Morning, Mr. Orwell were supported by the Rockefeller Foundation (a private foundation and philanthropic media research and arts funding organization based in the United States), indicating their interest in supporting media that has the power to educate the masses without being didactic. In a memo on Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, Howard Klein, Director of Arts at the Rockefeller Foundation, wrote “This sort of opportunity comes rarely, so the likelihood of our opening ourselves up to a deluge of media events is slim. [Klein] was interested to note that at the National Endowment for the Arts Inter Arts Panel meetings, which [Klein] attended a few weeks ago, there was considerable support for the project, based on the high quality of the artists involvement.”[9]

Paik’s involvement with the Rockefeller Foundation dates back to 1965 when Paik received a John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund grant to purchase one of the first Sony Portapak video recorders to enter the consumer market in the United States.[10] In 1969, Paik was an artist-in-residence at the Experimental Workshop established by the Rockefeller Foundation at Boston Public Television station WGBH, where he created Electronic Opera No. 1 (1969).[11] The work was part of The Medium is the Medium, a television program that invited six artists to work with television technicians to develop video works, initiating the conversation of the collaboration between public television and the emerging field of video art in the United States, demonstrating the interest of the Rockefeller Foundation in funding media arts. However, Paik’s interest in television technology goes back to his college days in West Germany, where he studied art history and music in Munich and Cologne, and at the Conservatory of Music in Freiburg.[12] Before his studies in West Germany, Paik lived, studied, worked, and moved between three countries in East Asia, which are all personal experiences that would fuel his transnational works. Although Paik’s intentions of transnational interconnectedness over video and satellite technology were utopian, it is vital to note that satellites are “instruments of power and information flow, controlled by the large corporations and nation-states,” complicating Paik’s transnational projects as his institutional support often came from institutions that had a role in advancing their geopolitical agendas beyond their place of operation.[13] Thus, while it is remarkable that Paik was able to tap into these resources, his projects also demonstrate how the “artistic expression is subordinated to a censorship of money or the state,” as evident from the inter-office correspondences at the Rockefeller Foundation.[14]

Two years later, following the success of Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, Paik created Bye Bye Kipling by using the same technology to connect the United States, Japan, and South Korea. By featuring interviews with Keith Haring and Arata Isozaki and performances by Philip Glass and the Kodō Drummers, Paik used the project to open a two-way, interactive communication channel between three countries that have complicated history. Korea, Paik’s home country, and Japan, Paik’s temporary home following the onset of the Korean War in 1950, have a multigenerational history of disputes, which continues to this dayPaik, living in Korea and Japan, had a special connection with both countries, which is why he imagined this project as a channel to share cultures between its people and start moving beyond each other’s differences. In the work, Paik employed visuals very similar to his previous satellite work as a way to open new channels of communication between the countries. To achieve this vision, Paik had to involve several individual and institutional networks to realize it, among which were the Rockefeller Foundation, Sony Corporation, and Samsung Electronics. This first-time-ever collaboration between national broadcasting centers in Japan and Korea featured a juxtaposition of performances, but to Paik, Bye Bye Kipling was a “tiny step in the right direction” of “using video to bring the people of the world together.”[15] The next and final satellite work expanded his global vision of unity, making it his most comprehensive satellite transmission.

In 1988, as the Cold War was coming to an end, Paik collaborated with eleven broadcasting stations across the world, including those from Russia and China, to create Wrap Around the World, a global satellite program featuring performances of David Bowie, the Vienna Philharmonic, and a Chinese pop group, among others. By including an array of broadcasting stations from a dozen locations such as China, Germany, Ireland, Israel, the United Kingdom, Russia, Brazil, South Korea, Japan, and the United States, Paik presented the reach of his global networks needed to realize Wrap Around the World. In using his networks to execute it, Paik imagined a global community of viewers he referred to as the Video Common Market, which would advocate for the free exchange of video art across national borders just as the European Economic Community. Wrap Around the World had the largest network of artists and funding institutions, all supporting a “piece that could be experienced by over 50 million people simultaneously.”[16] In observing Paik’s transnational works, what becomes evident is his vision of using video art, television, and satellite technology to connect scattered elements of society and get them to communicate with one another, all in the hope of solving social and political issues that to Paik can be resolved through the mutual exchange of words, images, and cultures.

In providing additional primary and secondary sources to my presentation, this essay further demonstrates the complexities of Paik’s transnational networks. His involvement with artists, curators, art institutions, collectors, philanthropic organizations, television stations, and state funding bodies reveals the intricacies of his works. However, it also complicates Paik’s role as the sole creator of his creative undertakings. Although Paik was a global visionary who employed new media technologies like video art, television, and satellite technology to create groundbreaking border crossing works, it is also vital to recognize the labor and support of his social and institutional networks that assisted him throughout the process, especially women and people of color whose involvement enriched Paik’s transnational works by making them conceptually and visually engaging.


[1] Nam June Paik, “Expanded Education for the Paperless Society,” Radical Software 1, no. 1 (1970): 8.

[2] Joan Rothfuss, Topless Cellist: The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014), 224.

[3] Fred Goodman, Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), 224.

[4] Michael Rush, “Shigeko Kubota,” American Art (June 2000): 6.

[5] Jonathan Michaels, McCarthyism: The Realities, Delusions and Politics Behind the 1950s Red Scare (New York: Routledge, 2017), 237.

[6] Nam June Paik, “Global Groove and Video Common Market,” written February 1970, published in Rosebush, Nam June Paik 1959-1973, ed. Judson Rosebush (Syracuse: Everson Museum of Art, 1974), n.p.

[7] Antonio Muntadas, Robert Nickas, and Berta Sichel, “60’s Spirit/80’s Tech: Nam June Paik’s Home TV,” Send: Video Communication Arts, no. 10 (Spring 1985): 20.

[8] Muntadas, Nickas, and Sichel, “60’s Spirit/80’s Tech,” 22.

[9] Howard Klein’s comment on letter from the Television Laboratory at WNET Thirteen, Rockefeller Foundation Records, United States – Humanities and Arts, Subseries R, Box R2335,

[10] Michelle Yun, “Evolution, Revolution, Resolution,” in Nam June Paik: Becoming Robot, eds. Melissa Chiu and Michelle Yun (New York, NY: The Asia Society Museum, 2014), 25.

[11] John G. Hanhardt, Nam June Paik (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1982), 45.

[12] Gregory Zinman, Making Images Move: Handmade Cinema and the Other Arts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2020), 416

[13] John G. Hanhardt and Gregory Zinman, Nam June Paik: Art in Process (New York: Gagosian, 2022), 145.

[14] Jacques Ellul, “The Characterology of Technique,” in The Technological Society (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), 128.

[15] Clarke Taylor, “Bye Kipling, Hello Global TV,” The Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1986.

[16] Holly Rogers, Sounding the Gallery: Video and the Rise of Art-Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 174.