The showing of the one-hour film, appropriately entitled A Tribute to John Cage, is just one in a series of events being held in D.C. to commemorate what would have been Cage's 100th birthday. The event also served as a preview of the museum's extensive exhibition on Paik, which is scheduled to open this December.
Both Cage and Paik were artistic visionaries, creating works that still push the boundaries of music and art today. To place the documentary in perspective, John Hanhardt, senior curator of the musuem for video arts, talked at length about the friendship of Cage and Paik, their respective places in the art world, and Paik's moving image essay about his friend's life and work.
The two first met in Germany in 1958 and formed a bond, which given the nature of their creative philosophies and endeavors, wasn't surprising. Both created challenging music and art, often as much (or, in many cases, more) about performance than composition.
"There was always something about Nam June's performing that was totally unpredictable," Handardt said. "During one of Paik's musical performance, he jumped from the stage, went into the audience and began cutting John Cage's shirt and tie, then smothered him in shampoo. He was making his own performance a playful hommage to the master John Cage"
Handhardt said both artists were intent on "opening our ears to listening and opening our eyes to watching."
Both explored the role of chance and randomness in art. For example, Cage would often use the Chinese I Ching to determine the best places to schedule performances which sometimes turned out to be busy street corners or vacant, trash-filled lots.
In addition, Paik and Cage created the technology to allow them to display their art. "And they were both looking for a way to humanize technology and to get to a democratization of performance," Handhardt said.
Finally, both were well aware of the power of silence in an increasingly cacophonous contemporary world. "What we require is silence and what silence requires is that I go on talking," Cage says in Paik's film.
Of course, words do little justice to the magic of Cage's music or Paik's video genius. So here are some links where you can witness that power for yourself.
- Paik captures Cage performing a portion of ":4:33."
- Paik uses a robot, an isightful stuteering critic, the 1969 Woodstock, and Cage himself.
- Cage performing on a Nam June Paik TV special.
- A look at Nam June Paik's Electronic Superhighway (on display at the Smithsonian