The Talbot Rice Gallery in the University of Edinburgh is the venue for a retrospective of Nam June Paik’s work during the course of the 2013 International festival. While the major show in Tate Liverpool (Dec 2010 – Mar 2011) interestingly devoted a lot of space to his early collaborations, here his video work and video sculptures, for which he is best known, were centre stage. The exhibition also gave some space to archival photographs of from Nam June Paik’s first solo show, held 50 years ago in 1963, entitled Exposition of Music – Electronic Television (Wuppertal, 1963), which was a useful link back to the Tate show.
Dominating the room as you enter the exhibition is Electronic Opera No 2 (1972) – a colour video work interpreting Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto. Children of the 1970s will recognise how some of Paik’s groundbreaking video techniques (which now look charmingly dated, even cheesey) made their way into the mainstream and emerged in some of the video effects used in Top of the Pops or Dr Who. Interspersed with footage of the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing the concerto is video footage of a bust of Beethoven being slapped in the face, and of a toy piano going up in flames.
Upstairs, the positioning of the work is particularly effective. As you walk along the balcony which contains photographic documentation of Paik’s Exposition of Music you turn towards the circular gallery to see TV Buddha.
TV Buddha is a self-reflexive piece in which a Buddha statue watches CCTV footage of itself on a TV monitor. As you approach it in the Talbot Rice Gallery, you see the small seated Buddha in profile, and behind this is a view through to the Georgian gallery, in which is hanging Paik’s Video Chandelier No 1 (1989) – in which tiny TVs hang from a sturdy frame entangled with Christmas lights. And behind the chandelier you get a view of a screen on which Paik’s seminal Global Groove (1973) is being projected. American jive fades in to Korean folk music and back to Katherine Moorman playing Paik’s TV Cello. Taking in these three contrasting works in one sightline is enticing and summarises well the macaronic fusion of Paik’s work and of the exhibition itself.
But it is not just your eyes that are assailed with contrasting and ever-changing sights. As you wander round the gallery the soundtrack constantly changes, like a badly tuned radio, as you move from one work to the next, or as each work changes from scene to scene. Against a foundation of the Beethoven piano concerto, you alternately tune in to the Beatles, Saint-saens’s The Swan, strange sounds from a Shamanistic ceremony and more in a gloriously democratic and cosmopolitan cacophony of which Paik would have been proud.
In the main quadrangle of the Talbot Rice gallery, a couple of Paik video works could be viewed by members of the public. It was the only place where photography was permitted.
Transmitted Live: Nam June Paik Resounds is at Talbot Rice Gallery till 19 October 2013