Carsten Nicolai makes a tribute to artist Paik

by Cameron Allan Mckean

Special To The Japan Times

How did this work come together?

The starting point for “crt mgn” was a performance I did in Tokyo in memory of Korean-American artist Nam June Paik, who died in 2006. In the performance at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, I held a coil which manipulated signals from a speaker in one hand and manipulated the visual signals from a TV with a magnet in my other hand.

Isn’t it dangerous to attack a television like that?

Yes, highly dangerous. I wouldn’t recommend anybody does it, but it was a great experience.

Why is Paik so important to you?

He used to teach here in Düsseldorf and is connected to a number of German artists, including Joseph Beuys. I really appreciated the early works of Nam June Paik, where he explores electronics in a very basic way. He was a pioneer for video art and I think he left a very strong trace, not just on me but also on the German art scene.

Do you feel the term “media art” is an accurate way of describing your work?

It’s kind of terrible that artistic expression gets simply stripped down to the media, to the way it was produced. It’s secondary to me if the work is a photograph, painting, interactive work, program, software or sculpture. For me, it’s more interesting what is expressed in the work. Artists are not trying to force these genres or categories; for us they are a burden and a limit.

You’ve been working in Japan for 15 years. Where does your fascination with the country come from?

I think the very basic reason is that ever since I was 14 or 15, I’ve been deeply fascinated with Japanese gardens. Also with woodcuts and traditional, classic art, too.

Do you feel an artistic connection between Germany and Japan?

German architect Bruno Taut helped connect Japanese and German art, and in his architecture I can see there is a very strong attraction between the two cultures. I see my fascination with Japan as a continuity of the kind of connection which existed in the 1920s between Japan and Germany. Bauhaus would be unthinkable without Japanese culture. (C.A.M.)

  • zer0_0zor0

    Interesting interview. Haven’t seen any of his work in a number of years, but found what I did see in the early 2000s to be interesting. I didn’t know there was a connection between Japan and the Bauhaus movement–would have liked to hear a little more about that.

    The statement that

    It’s kind of terrible that artistic expression gets simply stripped down to the media, to the way it was produced. It’s secondary to me if the work is a photograph, painting, interactive work, program, software or sculpture. For me, it’s more interesting what is expressed in the work. Artists are not trying to force these genres or categories; for us they are a burden and a limit.

    seems to the point in the current scene.

    That is to say, a lot of young people seem to think that mastering a medium is the way to produce art, missing the big picture aspect that the medium is just a material through which something is expressed, hopefully in a manner that leaves some sort of durable impression in the mind and heart of the beholder as well as the history of such expressions.

    Mastering a medium is something worthwhile in itself, but it relates more to craftmanship and artisanship than art per se.

    Art has to be based on an insight, an inspiration that the artist then attempts to embody and share. While media does indeed matter, it is not the motivating basis for creating art. I would imagine that fans of the so-called “pop art” genre might differ, but I digress.