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Refocusing on the Medium: The Rise of East Asia Video Art

2020.12.27 - 2021.03.21 closed

OCAT Shanghai is pleased to present Refocusing on the Medium: The Rise of East Asia Video Art, the first exhibition to assemble key protagonists that initiated experiments with the medium of video originating from Japan, Korea and China, on view from 27 December 2020 to 21 March 2021. The exhibition proposes a re-examination of the artists approach to the video medium rising from East Asia and contributes to the global history of video art as a transnational contemporary art medium.

Since the SONY Portapak portable video recorder was invented in Japan in 1965, artists on every continent gained access and have contributed to the development of this global medium. Exhibitions exploring the histories of video art have featured across Asia in the past decade. The cumulative results have enhanced detail and depth to specific national histories laudably expanding an existing world history of video art. The exhibitions and accompanying research expose scholarly accounts of experimental practice and international exchange that provokes a more radical review of the way video art is considered.

This exhibition shows how the rise of East Asia video art developed as a hybrid global art form characterized by conditions of video art’s medium specificity in a context of post medium contemporary art practice. As a new technology and experimental artistic medium with distinct characteristics, video art arrived with no cultural traditions, no significant conventions or history – a new global contemporary art tool.

This view of the medium gives reason for a recalibration of thinking and reassessment of the contribution that artists from East Asia have made to this still contested history. How did artists in East Asia take up the apparatus of video and experiment with this new global medium and can this change the way we might approach the history of video art? 

Beginning with Nam June Paik’s entangled Korea, Japan, European and American global art networks, artists from East Asia took up the culturally non-specific medium to enter new points of exchange and equally complex trans-regional and transnational networks. In little more than twenty years the video medium was channelled by artists globally, specifically in Japan from 1968, Korea 1978, Taiwan 1983, Hong Kong 1985 and the mainland of China 1988. Within a brief period first hand experimentation was occurring across the industrialised and developing economies straddling continents and cultures, situating video art as the first global contemporary art medium.

Nam June Paik, TV Buddha, 1974(2002), Installation view, Nam June Paik Art Center's current exhibition Nam June Paik TV Wave, 2020. Image courtesy of Nam June Paik Art Center ©Nam June Paik Estate.
*TV Buddha presented in Refocusing on the Medium: the Rise of East Asia Video Art is live broadcasted in cooperation with the Nam June Paik Art Center's current exhibition Nam June Paik TV Wave

In partnership with the Nam June Paik Art Center in Korea, a live stream broadcast of the iconic Nam June Paik video installation TV Buddha, (1974-2002) is projected in the entry foyer of the exhibition. The projection is a provocation to question the video medium within the context of the exhibition – the liveness of the medium, the distortion of time and space, the tension between illusion, reality and authentic experience, the conceptual strategies that subvert the medium, and the dynamics connecting local and global aspirations. Rarely seen outside of Japan, Katsuhiro Yamaguchi’s CCTV interactive video installations dating from 1972 evidence his active contribution to emerging international contemporary art dialogues. In this exhibition Las Meninas (1974-1975) that was presented at the 13th San Paolo Biennial in 1975, offers firsthand experience of the complex art experiment incorporating CCTV, six video monitors, and two full-size reproductions of the eponymous 17th century painting by Diego Velázquez making actual Michel Foucault’s analysis of the painting in his book The Order of Things (1966). 

Katsuhiro Yamaguchi, Las Meninas, 1974-1975, CCTV video installation. Image courtesy of Hiroyasu Yamaguchi. 
*Still from the 1995 compilation “The Document Video of Video Installation & Video Sculpture by Katsahiro Yamaguchi” shows the artist being interviewed.

Other artists in the exhibition, such as Yoko Ono employs CCTV to transpose sublime spatial concepts in Sky TV (1966-2020). Park Hyunki works with elemental natural objects juxtaposed with what was the latest technologies to pose philosophical questions of existence through two major works including the video installation Untitled (TV Stone Tower), (1979-1982). The CCTV video installation by Wang Gongxin, Two Square Meter Space, (1995-2020) inverts and dislocates sculptural space, challenging conventional rules of perspective and perception. Works by Soungui Kim use the characteristics of portability and the record and record over functions to scramble and deconstruct linear time in ways only video can. Art works have been selected because of the exemplary investigations into the unique possibilities, the medium specific qualities, of video in the context of a post medium contemporary art practice. Artists such as Kim Kulim, Takahiko Iimura, and Yuan Goang-Ming deconstruct screen space while forcing the reality of material objects and the illusion of the video medium together to destabilise certainty of representation and emphasise the present moment. Sculptural approaches both material and conceptual are dominant in the majority of the works, with particular attention to conceptual screen and monitor space in works by Keigo Yamamoto, Shigeko Kubota, Chen Shaoxiong, Zhu Jia, Geng Jianyi and Ellen Pau. 

Park Hyunki, Untitled (TV Stone Tower), 1979-1982. Image courtesy of Estate of Park Hyunki and Gallery Hyundai.
*Installation view from Lee Gallery, Daegu, 1979.

Wang Gongxin, The Broken Bench (detail), 1995-2020. Image courtesy of artist.

Refocusing on the Medium: The Rise of East Asia Video Art reconsiders the rise of the video art in a selection of early East Asia artists’ works experimenting with the unique medium specific conditions of video art in the context of their post medium contemporary art practice. 

Text / Kim Machan

Behind the Scene

Image: Portrait of Katsuhiro Yamaguchi, 2015
Image courtesy of Saitô Sadamu

Katsuhiro Yamaguchi
1928-2018, Tokyo, Japan

Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1928, Katsuhiro Yamaguchi created over 30 major video installations since 1974. A prolific artist and educator, he began his career establishing the pioneering art group Jikken Kôbô (Experimental Workshop) 1951-1958. Yamaguchi experimented in the field of ‘art and technology’ and ‘electronic arts’, and in 1971 founded the highly influential artist collective Video Hiroba. In 1977, he founded Sogô zôkei (Visual arts and mixed media) department in University of Tsukuba. He travelled to Europe and the United States for short tours, was a colleague of Yoko Ono and had contact with the fluxus art movement. His first sculptures in the 1950s, utilising transparent textured glass angled to provoke movement known as the ‘Vitrine’ series preceded his moving image experiments and installations. His interactive CCTV performances and installations experiments began in 1972 using the Sony Portapak in public places and galleries. In 1975 his work was awarded the leading prize at the San Paolo Biennale for his interactive CCTV video installation Las Meninas 1974-75. Katsuhiro Yamaguchi exhibited extensively throughout his career both nationally and internationally.

Image courtesy of Nam June Paik

Nam June Paik
1932-2006, Seoul, South Korea

Born in Seoul, South Korea in 1932, Nam June Paik spent his middle school days in Seoul and Hong Kong, and his high-school days in Kamakura, Japan. He studied aesthetics in the University of Tokyo, with a graduation thesis on Arnold Schoenberg. Moving to Germany in 1956 and studying European philosophy and modern music, he came to work actively with contemporary avant-garde artists and began to carve out his artist-identity by doing radical performances which were completely different from artistic canons and conventions back then. Afterwards he pursued a novel path of art making by means of new media. His media art gained momentum by his first solo show Exposition of Music-Electronic Television in which he presented televisions with inner circuits modified and manipulated, as a work of art.

Paik is a pioneering media artist working with various technologies in creative and experimental ways. He saw the artist’s role as consisting in thinking about the future and sought for better ways of global communication through art. Regarded as “one of the forerunners of a new breed of artists who are scientists, philosophers and engineers at the same time” and as “a very special and genuine genius and futurologist with foresight” Paik still lives on with us right here as “the most contemporary artist” today.

Image courtesy of Matthew Placek ©Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono
b. 1933, Tokyo, Japan

Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1933, Yoko Ono is a multidisciplinary artist making significant contributions over a sixty-year career as a visual artist, poet, singer, songwriter and peace activist.  She moved with her family to New York in 1953, later living in London, New York and Tokyo where she became a key figure in the international development of Fluxus and Conceptual art.  Her early works were based on verbal or written instructions to the audience, for example Painting to Be Stepped On (1960–61). Such instructional approach also could be found in her performance Cut Piece (1964).  In collaboration with her late husband, the Beatles legend John Lennon, Bed-In (1969) performed her commitment to world peace. Ono has exhibited widely across the world, including her first retrospective in Whitney Museum of American Art (1989), Yes Yoko Ono at the Japan Society Gallery in New York City (2000) which toured around the world, and a recent retrospective of her early art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (2015). She received a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

Image courtesy of the artist and Japan Media Arts Festival Archive

Keigo Yamamoto
b. 1936, Fukui, Japan

Born in Fukui, Japan in 1936, Keigo Yamamoto is a Japanese media artist who started producing video art from 1968. As an original member of the video artists’ collective Video Hiroba, he made significant contributions to the first wave of experimentation with video in Japan. He was a key figure leading the ‘network art’ movement in the 1970s, a new art that brought about encounters between different cultures in the fusion of computers, sound and telecommunication. His work in video art led him to establish the Fukui International Video Biennale in 1985 that continued until 1999. Yamamoto regularly exhibited in many significant international exhibitions and as an educator has nurtured younger generations of artists. From 1988, he was a professor at Musashino Art University, and later became a professor and the director of the Film and Media Research Center, at Kyoto Seika University in 2000. In 2014 he was awarded the Japan Media Arts Festival Achievement Award for his lifetime contribution to media arts and education in Japan.

Kim Kulim
b. 1936, Sangju, South Korea

Born in Sangju, South Korea in 1936, Kim Kulim lives and works in Seoul. Kim holds a significant status in Korean contemporary art history as a founder of Korean experimental art. Retaining a rebellious attitude towards existing values and customs, Kim has produced a wide scope of experimental works ranging from paintings, prints, sculptures, installations and performances to land art, video art and mail art. He has also been involved in experimental plays, films, music and dance. In 1969, he released Relics of Mass Media, considered Korea's first mail art and also produced The Meaning of 1/24 Second, a seminal work in the history of Korean experimental film. Kim was a founding member of AG (Korean Avant-Garde Association), through which he led avant-garde artistic practices that emphasized concept and process. In the 1970s, he founded The Fourth Group, an avant-garde art group consisting of young artists and intellectuals in various fields, pursuing intermedia art combining art, theatre, film, fashion and music. Later in the decade, he set off to Japan to begin experimentation with print and video art, and in the 1980s, he traveled to the United States to seek new ways of artistic practice.

Image courtesy of Microscope Gallery
©2018 Microscope Gallery

Takahiko Iimura
1937, Tokyo, Japan

Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1937, Takahiko Iimura is a pioneering artist known for his work with film, video, installation, performance, and digital technologies spanning more than 50 years. Iimura first began working with film in 1960 and was instrumental in the burgeoning Japanese experimental and independent film scene. Iimura moved to the US on a Fellowship from Harvard University in 1966 and soon immersed himself in the mid-60s New York experimental film and art community. Early videos were included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art of New York and PS1 (1975), and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, France (1977), while other performance based works and interactive installations were featured in the 1979 two-person exhibition New Video (with Shigeko Kubota) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Image: Shigeko Kubota in her studio. ©Tom Haar, 1972. 
Image courtesy of Tom Haar and Shigeko Kubota Video Art Foundation

Shigeko Kubota
1937-2015, Niigata, Japan

Born in 1937 in Niigata, Japan, in 1964 Kubota moved to New York, and immediately became an active participant in the international Fluxus art movement in the 1960s. She was one of the first artists to adopt the portable video camera Sony Portapak in 1967. Kubota was strongly influenced by the art and theories of Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. She brought a singular sensibility to her extensive body of video sculptures, multi-media installations, and single-channel videos. Throughout her career, Kubota forged a lyrical union of the personal and the technological, often merging vibrant electronic processing techniques with images and objects of nature, art and everyday life. Kubota’s work received two major surveys in the ’90s--one at the American Museum of the Moving Image (1991), the other at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1996).

Park Hyunki
1942-2000, Osaka, Japan

Born in Osaka, Japan in 1942, Park Hyunki is widely known as a precursor to video art in Korea for developing his own artistic vocabulary with the use of then a rare medium. Park’s approach to video and technology resembles the thriving interests of objects and materiality in Korean art of the 70s, which rejected a Western Modernism that concentrated on artistic expression and intervention. By juxtaposing found objects from nature with contemporary technologies, Park contrasted reality to fiction and nature to culture. Featuring organic elements, such as stones and water, Park rearranged and modified objects which are not commonly considered to be art. Denying the theatrical and narrative quality of video, Park mainly concentrated on the contemplation of materials and perception. His persistent and solitary effort to engage in video was indeed a revolutionary one in his time and the contribution he has made to Korean video art is truly immeasurable.

Soungui Kim
b. 1946, Buyeo, South Korea

Born in Buyeo, South Korea in 1946, Soungui Kim is a multimedia artist, one of the pioneers in multidisciplinary art of the early 70s. She has been living and working in France since 1971, actively teaching, creating, and establishing her career for the last 50 years. Kim is an artist with complex aspects that cannot be defined in a single way nor in the dichotomy of situations. Her interest in Eastern and Western philosophies and the experimentation with various artistic medium led Kim to incorporate situational, experiential and accidental processes into her practice.

Artist Soungui Kim lives a life that is not confined to formalities, but pioneers new roads of art ahead of her times, creating new paths in untrodden land. Kim has constantly blazed trails in new territories and has been introduced to the public as a case of convergence between disciplines and genres including those involving science and technology, and the arts. From the deconstruction of painting, to spectator-participatory events in public places, challenges in video and multimedia, and comparative studies in culture and philosophy of East and West, Soungui Kim's artistic journey has always been one step ahead.

Wang Gongxin
b. 1960, Beijing, China

Born in Beijing in 1960, Wang Gongxin was admitted to the Capital Normal University academy of Fine Arts in 1978, and took the teaching post after graduation in 1982. In 1987, he went to State University of New York as a visiting scholar for master degree studying. He was a visiting tutor at Central Academy of Fine Arts between 2002 and 2007. In 2013, Wang was nominated for XL video Award of Best set design in 2013 “Olivier Award”. In 2014, he received Honorary Doctoral degree in SUNY (State University of New York). He lives and works in Beijing and New York.

Wang's has exhibited in the San Paulo Biennale, Brasil; Taipei Biennial; Shanghai Biennial; Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial in Japan; Tokyo Watari Museum of Contemporary Art; Mori Art Museum in Japan, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MOMA PS1 in New York; Victoria and Albert Museum in UK; Queens Museum in New York; Museum for Contemporary Art ZKM in Germany; Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin; Tate Liverpool in UK; National Gallery of Victoria in Australia; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin; White Cube Hong Kong; Fukuoka art Museum in Japan; Institute of Contemporary Arts in London; The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York; Power Station of Art in Shanghai; OCT Contemporary Art Terminal Shanghai; UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing and National Art Museum of China.

Image courtesy of the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery
Photo by Martin Cheung

Ellen Pau
b. 1961, Hong Kong, China

Born in Hong Kong in 1961, Ellen Pau is a key figure in Hong Kong’s art scene. She raises our awareness of our own physical presence and ignites a contemplation of what it means to be, to exist, here, now, and beyond that, the space each of us occupy. Born in Hong Kong and a graduate from Hong Kong Polytechnic University with a diploma in Diagnostic Radiography in 1985 and received an MA in Visual Culture Studies from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2008.  Pau has worked as a radiographer in the public hospital in Hong Kong ever since. Pau was plunged into the Hong Kong art scene by her intense interest in video art, new media art, as well as other art forms such as music, poems and performances. Beyond artistic creation, Pau has also been a leader in the promotion, curation and education of art and culture in Hong Kong through founding several important initiatives such as Videotage, the Microwave International New Media Arts Festival and Wikitopia Mini Festival.  In 2014, Pau was appointed by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council as a representative of the Art Form Group in Film and Media Arts until end of 2019, and in the same year, she also served on the interim acquisition committee of M+ in West Kowloon Cultural District till present.

Pau is a seminal figure in the Hong Kong art scene, weaving a practice that engages as well as pushes the boundaries of technology, while reflecting on society. Moreover, Pau has been a key contributor to society, through her medical activity as well as initiation and leading of cultural activities. As such, through multiple avenues and outlets, Pau prompts an exploration of the self and the times we are living in, ever shifting and evolving.

Chen Shaoxiong
1962-2016, Shantou, China

Born in Shantou, Guangdong province in 1962, Chen Shaoxiong was educated in the printmaking department of the Guangzhou Fine Art Academy, is a founding member of the Big Tail Elephant Collective, one of the most important artistic collectives in Chinese contemporary art history.

The artist’s conceptual work employs a variety of media, including photography, video, installation and ink painting, to investigate the dynamics of China’s rapidly changing cityscapes. Often set against the background of an imaginative or imaginary skyline, the artist records the hectic pace and absurdity of everyday existence: fragments from family life, political issues, rumors from the entertainment industry, restaurants, nightlife, and prostitution.

Chen Shaoxiong begins with the directness of media such as traditional ink painting and transforms it into technical media such as video; it is a combination of this and the uncomplicated manner in which the everyday confront more extraordinary issues of modern life that gives the work added import. Thematically, his work often deals with the rapidly urbanizing and constantly changing environments of his home province in southern China, the nature of the crowd, the dominance of the image, the aesthetics of globalization, and public or collective memory.

Geng Jianyi
1962-2017, Zhengzhou, China

Born in Zhengzhou, Henan province in 1962, passed away in 2017, Geng Jianyi graduated from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (today: China Academy of Art, Hangzhou), Oil Painting Department.

The work of the artist Geng Jianyi is characterized by an uncompromising resistance to any categorical form of representation. Since the mid 1980s, when he first came to prominence within China as a seminal member of the ‘avant-garde’ movement known as the ’85 New Wave, Geng has sought to foment this resistance through the use of a wide range of techniques―including various forms of painterly transcription, staining, frottage, photographic and filmic transfer, chemical transformation and textual juxtaposition--whose conspicuously disjunctive effects constantly undermine any attempt to arrive at definitive meaning.

Zhu Jia
b. 1963, Beijing, China

Born in Beijing in 1963, Zhu Jia graduated from China Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1988. He works and lives in London, U.K. As a pioneer of the practice of video art in China, Zhu Jia always tries to capture ordinary scenes through distinctive methods of practice. In his 1994 piece Forever, which has participated in several important exhibitions, Zhu attached a camera to the left wheel of a bicycle. The artist rode this bicycle over 10km around the city of Beijing, catching images of daily life through a truly unique perspective.

Yuan Goang-Ming
b. 1965, Taipei, China

Born in Taipei, Taiwan in 1965, Yuan Goang-Ming obtained a master’s degree in media art from the Academy of Design in Karlsruhe, Germany, and now teaches as a professor at the Department of New Media Art of Taipei National University of Arts. He is considered one of the most active and internationally acclaimed Taiwanese media artists.

Yuan began making video art in 1984. Combining symbolic metaphors with technological media, his work expresses the state of contemporary existence, and explores the human mind and consciousness with the use of poetic expressions. He was awarded First Prize for the Taipei County Arts Award, and his City Disqualified created in 2002 further solidified his unwavering position in the history of Taiwanese contemporary media art.

In 2007 Yuan began to use elements derived from “everyday domesticity” and “ruins” to develop fascinating “theatrical-everydayness” in his work. After 2011, he began exploring diverse formats, creating large-scale creations based on the themes of “time and memory” and “body and perception”. His 2014 solo exhibition, An Uncanny Tomorrow, extended from the subject of “home” and explored regional living conditions under the current phenomenon of globalization, with art used to reflect on modern people’s conundrums and worries. His solo exhibition, Tomorrowland, presented in 2018 showed the concept of “home” will no longer be a stable concept in the future. The presented artworks focused on the theme of “war in everyday”, or “everyday during war”, with the living conditions and the unrest in today’s world shown.


Special thanks to
MAAP(Media Art Asia Pacific)
The University of Queensland
Korea Arts Management Service
Asialink, University of Melbourne, Australia Council for the Arts, Australian Government
Nam June Paik Art Centre
Shigeko Kubota Video Art Foundation

Thanks also go to
Microscope Gallery
Gallery Hyundai
Arario Gallery
Edouard Malingue Gallery
SPURS Gallery
ShanghART Gallery
Tina Keng Gallery
for their sincere support

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