“The Michelangelo of electronic art,” “visionary missionary,” “cultural terrorist”… just some of the many descriptions applied to Video art pioneer Nam June Paik (b. Korea, 1932; d. Miami, 2006). From his early performances to multimedia installations, video strips, “prepared televisions,” and “video sculptures,” Nam June Paik’s contribution to the history and development of Video art has been exceptional indeed.
Razor-sharp, witty, and provocative, his work is a relentless quest for new strategies for the deconstruction and reinvention of televisual language, content and technology. Paik asserted that Video art was more than a screen and a sequence of images: it was the stuff of life itself. He created the first ever work of video art by filming Pope Paul VI riding in an open-top car down Fifth Avenue in New York. The piece was shot from a taxi and screened that same evening at Café Au Go-Go in Greenwich Village.
Created in 1992, Fire Piece is a large-scale video installation of black television screens showing color images of a fire. Paik uses the television, his “fetish object,” both as an art form in its own right and a support for the diffusion of images. The colorful moving images emanating from the stack of technological devices are a perfect illustration of the two-fold function of the television as object/motif and support in Paik’s work. Piled one on top of the other, as here, the televisions are elements in a physical work of sculpture. But as devices for the transmission of pictures, they stand as a counterpoint to the work’s dark, technological, apocalyptic landscape, while at the same time transmitting an image of destruction by fire.
The piece is also an acid critique of the television as an icon of domesticity: an object that even now is used by many to transmit the image of a fire burning into their homes, all day long. A world of comfort and reassurance that falls apart before our eyes.
The work was donated to MAMCO by Zurich Insurance Company Ltd in 2019