Technology And Nature Collide In Tate Modern's Nam June Paik Exhibition

Nam June Paik, Tate Modern ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 22 months ago

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Technology And Nature Collide In Tate Modern's Nam June Paik Exhibition Nam June Paik, Tate Modern 4
The chaotic 'Sistine Chapel'. © Estate of Nam June Paik. © Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

Ever been inside a 'TV garden'? Stand inside a dark room with TVs  — nestled within a sea of living house plants — glaring at you. The digital and natural worlds, usually thought of as being very separate have been brought together in a very purposeful way.

This 'TV garden' is a work by artist Nam June Paik, and feels very fitting for today's always-on era — so it's surprising that it was created back in the 1970s. It’s part of a major exhibition dedicated to the Korean-born artist at Tate Modern.

The mishmash of nature and tech that is the TV garden. © Estate of Nam June Paik. © Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

The artist embraced new technology and used it to bring together the old world and the new, and East and West, as can be seen by his placing a flickering candle — a tool used in meditation — inside the shell of a television set. Elsewhere, a statue of Buddha appears to watch itself on a CCTV monitor. We now have meditation apps on our phone but the idea of using tech to help us relax must have felt alien as recently as five years ago, let alone when Paik was creating work decades ago.  

Paik was well ahead of the curve in tackling the latest technologies as they launched, creating works as early as the 1950s, when society was still figuring out how our relationship with the digital realm would evolve. If he was alive today, imagine all the fun he would have working the likes of Skype, Google Maps and Tinder into his artistic practice.

© Estate of Nam June Paik. © Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

The exhibition slows down when it gets too art history focused, and too text heavy. His interactions with peers such as Joseph Beuys and John Cage are unnecessary distractions when Paik's big installations do a much better job of conveying the thrust of his work. If anything, the quieter parts of the show prove how relevant Paik's works are in today's world, while the work of other artists of his time have dated less successfully.

The show ends on a high note with an intense installation called ‘Sistine Chapel’. Projectors hang off a scaffold and point in all directions, so we’re assaulted by dozens of images and a cacophony of sound. It was first shown in 1993 and presciently summed up the information overload we all suffer today, long before we all became entirely dependent upon our smartphones.

I'm now going to share this review on Twitter and post snaps about the show on Instagram — but then Paik probably saw that coming too.

Nam June Paik is on at Tate Modern from 17 October 2019 to 9 February 2020. Tickets are £13 for adults.

Last Updated 21 October 2019