joyous machines

Happy new year everyone. 2011’s calendar is up and the Christmas presents are (mostly) put away. As always, I’m not too thrilled to see the holidays end, but luckily January is full of exhibitions to take your mind off the winter blues.

Liverpool and Manchester are currently hosting two exhibitions where art and technology meet and occasionally collide. The retrospective of Nam June Paik at Tate Liverpool and FACT connects these two sites in a new way: with a laser beam projected between the two for the duration of the show.


Photo by Minako Jackson

Tate’s exhibition focuses more on Paik’s background; his years in Germany and early works which were more musically-related and strongly influenced by John Cage. He started experimenting with television as an art form in the early 60’s and his collaborations with cellist Charlotte Moorman brought the visual and the musical together. Fragments of Moorman’s music drift out of the TV Garden, a miniature jungle of houseplants interspersed with monitors of varying sizes. It’s rather lovely and probably my favourite piece in Tate.

The works in FACT, particularly Global Groove and the Laser Cone, are quintessential works that make me think Paik may well be the godfather of MTV. Though many of Paik’s works were originally interactive, but are no longer due to conservation reasons, the Laser Cone invites engagement by the mats placed underneath so you can lie back and watch the beams of light dance across the inner surface.


Photo: Art in Liverpool

Nam June Paik opened last month, whereas Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Recorders at Manchester Art Gallery closes at the end of January. Recorders is interactive in a wonderfully delightful way I’ve experienced more often in science museums than art galleries. Scanners that look into our carry on bags in airports now take pictures of the contents of our bags of our own free will. And I defy anyone to not feel a moment of giddy wonder after visiting the Pulse Room. What impressed me is that the technology works so well, at least on the day I was there. I hope to get back before it closes, and I urge you to go and see it if you can.

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