"Ein bißchen fleißig schadet nicht"
Nam June Paik
im Gespräch mit
Susanne Rennert und Stephan von Wiese
SR/STW: Why did you become video teacher in Düsseldorf?
P: Because I didn’t have any money.
SR/STW: Was Düsseldorf the first academy which called you?
P: No, I already had a guest professorship in Hamburg for half a year or one year, I forgot.
SR/STW: Kann man denn Video überhaupt lernen?
P: Meine Philosophie war immer dieselbe: zuerst muß die hardware geschaffen werden. It is very hard to become a painter or a sculptor, because there have so many things already been done. After the "documenta" in Kassel the painter’s situation became very difficult. I don’t say painting is dead. I just say it’s difficult. Im Gegensatz dazu ist es im Videobereich sehr leicht, gute Kunst zu machen. Our weapon is in media times much stronger than a painter’s brush.
SR/STW: Why stronger?
P: Because you can control the dimension of the size. Wenn man z.B. eine "Video Wall" macht, kann ihre Größe leicht ein Bild von Jackson Pollock übertreffen. And you can "repaint" it every second, because in video you have much more color. Just open the camera and you can see everything. It is almost impossible not to make an interesting art work with video.
SR/STW: But don’t you need a concept before?
P: Yes, but therefore I said two things: One thing is, I must buy two Time Base Correctors. Suddenly the quality of "art ware" became very high and we were one of the first schools in the world to get two Time Base Correctors. Because $ 40.000 is not cheap. Most schools didn’t have that money.
SR/STW: But when you came there was nothing?
P: No, not even one. First I had to make the basic hardware investment, because Norbert Kricke asked me one condition: They wanted to have a small department because of my Vorgänger the danish Filmmaker Ole John, who wanted too much money. So there was a big conflict in the academy. Therefore we should have a small department. That meant I shouldn’t ask for much money.
SR/STW: Did you ask for any conditions when you came?
P: No, because in that year my Rockefeller project was just finished. I told the students one basic thing: I will not watch more than 5 minutes of tape in every semester.
SR/STW: Everybody or all together?
P: No, everybody. Because I wanted to train them to get a grant or a museum show. No curator will watch more than 5 minutes. So good or bad, everything must happen in 5 minutes. I decided not to see 6 minutes. I think that was very wise. Number two: I will make good hardware, so you cannot make bad work. Everybody can become a good artist but not everyone is a good art politician.
SR/STW: How did you teach art ?
P: I think, I constantly ridiculed all art museums and curators, galerists, art snobs, so to get a successful artist. Because there is no fair play in the art world. There are no objective criteria in the art world. If you play a game and you don’t know the rule of the game you cannot play the game. But in the art world you can always change the rule of the game over night. If you are about to loose your game you can change the rules. I just tell you art politics. And I know how to teach art politics. It is not anything you can read in art magazines. Don’t buy art magazines. That makes you crazy. You have the ideal to become Bob Morris, but it’s impossible. I never watched art magazines because it is too expensive and all game is set.
SR/STW: But did you teach another game?
P: I always said to make sure that you have good connections.
SR/STW: And there are rules to learn in video?
P: Ein bißchen fleißig schadet nicht. In der Malerei ist es wurst, ob Du fleißig bist oder nicht. Es ist völlig egal, ob Du 50 oder 10 Bilder in einem Jahr malst. Es ist vollkommen wurst. Aber im Videobereich muß man fleißig sein. Das Mischen am Mischpult erfordert viel Übung und Geduld. Everybody can become a cameraman. Simply it is impossible to make bad art in video, unless you are a prisoner of the uptown gallery game.
SR/STW: Did you say this is a good videowork, this is a bad one?
P: No, I said that any videotape which puts me to sleep is a good videotape, because I have suffered from insomania all my life. If I can sleep in a student’s videotape, I think it is the best videotape.
SR/STW: Did you sleep much?
P: Yes, I slept much.
SR/STW: Was there any collaboration with the students? I remember there was the performance "Video Venus", you made in the beginning.
P: At that time I needed a job. Until I got the job I worked a lot. Then, when I got my contract, I became lazy. I told the students that I did "Video Venus" to get a job. When I got my contract they could no more fire me. So afterwards I didn’t work any more.
SR/STW: Did you develop "Video Venus" in cooperation with the students?
p: It’s nice to have a naked woman which you can videotape. Every man likes a naked woman on the piano.
SR/STW: Was it your idea?
P: Yes, most likely. The academy had always model funds, but no equipment funds. There were no funds for tapes. Model fund was available. Any class could have about 1000 DM model fund. So I asked this student of Rinke. She had a quite good figure. We met a couple of times.
SR/STW: This concert was before teaching?
P: No, I was Gastprofessor. I was for two years Gastprofessor. 1978/79 - about that time.
SR/STW: Did you think it was still the academy of Beuys when you came?
P: First Beuys and I talked to have a concert. But the administration had a problem. Beuys hatte Hausverbot und er sagte, er könne nicht an die Akademie gehen. Otherwise he would be arrested. Before the concert Kricke said - he was the director - das Hausverbot ist vorbei. So Beuys came to me.
SR/STW: But what did you think of Beuys’ concept of teaching? He accepted everybody, he had more than 300 people at one time in his class.
P: For that time it was good.
SR/STW: Could you have accepted everybody in your class or did you choose?
P: In our case there is a natural limit. One thing is, I am a lazy guy, I don’t want to teach 300 people. For me teaching is to make money. For Beuys it was a sort of vocation.
SR/STW: It was no vocation for you?
P: No, are you crazy. Just to get "Bargeld". Art is not so important. Geschweige denn teaching. Why is teaching so interesting?
SR/STW: The students we met were generally satisfied with the class. They liked the way you taught them.
P: That’s new to me. Ich hatte immer ein schlechtes Gewissen. Ich mußte unbedingt 2 Time Base Correctors anschaffen. Danach arbeiteten die Studenten plötzlich. Hardware oriented art. If you have 2 Time Base Correctors, you can do everything. After this the work was done. I could have left the academy. But I needed the money.
SR/STW: But you invited the students to Ney York several times. Why did you do that?
P: Ich hatte ein schlechtes Gewissen. One thing is very important: I didn’t take money umsonst. I made about DM 4500 pro Monat or DM 5000: To keep appartment, to fly usw. kostete ungefähr die Hälfte. I decided to give back about DM 2500 back per month - sometimes less - basically speaking. So I didn’t steal the money and the students liked me. I didn’t come to school but I gave back half of my salary. I asked the students what they wanted to do with the money. If they wanted to come to New York I gave them money. I gave them my loft. ... I always said you must make career. If you have played your tapes in New York, it’s good for your career. The "Anthology Film Archives" in NY is very important. I helped them. It was very easy for me to set this up. It is a very capitalistic social contract, it has nothing to do with Beuys’ teaching of an idea. Video ist sowieso eine sehr kapitalistische Angelegenheit.
SR/STW: Did you take influence on the thinking of the students?
P: I had many interesting students but I decided not to give you any names. Of course a lot of these guys influenced me. Also I told the students: If you make good artwork, don’t show me, because I will make a copy.
SR/STW: So you are influenced by your students?
P: Yes I bought tapes from two or three students. It is all a very commercial capitalistic endeavour. I don’t teach art, I teach art politics. There are many ways of financing. For instance one of my students became a spy. He made money as a spy. That is very creative. One can become model, one can become prostitute. Becoming a movie star or a prostitute that is nearly the same in reality. The only difference is whether you are directly paid or not. In Hollywood everything is possible. That’s a media business.
SR/STW: Have you been content with your class?
P: The Düsseldorf students are very independent. Ich muß sagen, die Aufnahmeprüfung ist doch sehr hoch. I got very interesting boys and girls. I got all the misfits. Also I am the guy who does not grade people. That’s against my nature. I never took teaching activity very serious. I don’t make enemies out of the young people. So I just say everybody is equally good. If anybody makes big success, then maybe his uncle is Kultursenator or his father is a gallery owner. Without connections you can’t succeed in art business. I let students write their own recommendation. Afterwards I sign it and that is their entrance to other people. (...) Let’s not be so pedagogic. One of my teaching philosophies is: The most important thing about art is not to become a bartender, waitress or taxi-driver. Because many art-students become taxi-driver or waitress. Bartender, I think is a very interesting job, it’s performance and communication. I told my students that they cannot take only two years to make career. I decided to educate them as good engineers, so they can get a job in the industry. So, none of my students became taxi driver or waitress. I am very proud of this.
SR/STW: Did you want to have the best students?
P: Nein, sie machten die Aufnahmeprüfung selbst. Normalerweise wollten fünf Studenten pro Semester in die Klasse aufgenommen werden. Die Klasse hat sich die Arbeiten angesehen und dann entschieden.
SR/STW: So the students decided themselves, not you.
P: No, so I don’t have to be hated by anybody. They were very cruel to each other. They didn’t want to have too many students in my class.
SR/STW: How did you learn video?
P: I invented it. I finished with electronic music. Therefore I had to do something. I was neither a painter nor a sculptor, neither a good composer.
SR/STW: So you had to invent something?
P: Yes, there was no competition at that time.
SR/STW: Do you think video art can be developed in the future?
P: Yes, with internet, very much.