A Video Visionary

South Koreans stand by the cauldron of the 1988 Summer Olympics
South Koreans stand by the cauldron of the 1988 Summer Olympics Wikimedia Commons

A kaleidoscope of images flashes across the wall, forming a constantly changing, pulsating canvas — a visual commotion replete with iconic images from both East and West. Pictures from the Seoul Olympic Games race past a purple sunset. Scenes of traditional Korean rituals are displaced by footage of David Bowie in concert. Live video dissolves into computer-generated animation, as images of love and war are obscured by the flight of a large animated bird. Periodically the entire wall becomes the flag of Canada, Finland or Japan, underscoring the work's reliance on an amalgam of international sources.

This mesmerizing multimedia installation is the work of pioneer video artist Nam June Paik. On view at the National Museum of American Art through November 30, Megatron/Matrix (1995) is the Korean born artist's most ambitious project to date. The billboard size installation is composed of two adjoining walls of video screens — the rectangular, 150-monitor Megatron and the square, 65-monitor Matrix — all operating independently but sharing multiple random combinations of rapidly moving video and animation that transcend boundaries of time and place. The work, which is set to audio that ranges from ceremonial chants to rock and roll, is orchestrated by a complex system of laser disk players, computers and digital sequencers.

"Its grand scale and technological prowess," says NMAA chief curator Jacquelyn Days Serwer, "demonstrate Paik's extraordinary capacity to move video from the sphere of the ordinary to the limitless domain of the imagination. He has transformed television into a form of artistic expression particularly suited to our times."

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.