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It Speaks to Me: Diana Thater on Nam June Paik's 'Video Flag Z' at LACMA

January 25, 2012 | 10:00 am

Nam June Paik is a wonderful artist. There are some great examples of his work in the Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, but this is the only major Paik I know of in a public collection in L.A. It’s a grid of 84 Quasar TVs laid out like an American flag; one channel feeds all the screens on the top left section with images of stars, and the other channel gives us the stripes. The stars and stripes are constantly changing: images fold, multiply and zip across the screens. Scenes from movies dissolve in and out. It’s an exuberant work full of color and recognizable signs, like hearts and stars, and figures such as Marilyn Monroe and Allen Ginsberg, yet it creates no narrative and, in its comedy, mocks the quaint idea of linear time. For Paik there is no inherent meaning in the progression of history, in the ticking of the clock; there is only meaning in the simultaneous and chaotic flow of life. So the work encourages us to let go of the desire to link moments one after another into a falsely comprehensible story — it opens us up to living completely in the present. It has a kind of living beauty that is best expressed in the moving image.I think the people who restored the work a few years ago--Elvin Whitesides and Eddy Vajarakitipongse--understand that very well. TVs don't last forever, and they had to take them apart and put new tubes in them while keeping the aesthetic. They did an amazing job.
— Diana Thater, as told to Jori Finkel

Image: Nam June Paik's Video Flag Z, 1986. © Nam June Paik Estate, installation. Image courtsey Museum Associates/LACMA, 2012.