Nam June Paik’s legendary Electronic Superhighway

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Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway - Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), Smithsonian American Art Museum
Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft., at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Photo: centralasian/flickr.com

Published on: Friday September 21, 2018

Last updated

What is Nam June Paik’s ‘Electronic Superhighway’?

Electronic Superhighway is one of the most noted works of Korean Nam June Paik artist. It illustrates how he interpreted a diverse nation through media technology. The Electronic Superhighway is a large installation, constructed with 336 televisions, 50 DVD players, 3750 feet of cable, and 575 feet of multicolored neon tubing.

The impact on visitors

Electronic Superhighway creates an overwhelming impact on visitors when they first see it. The wave of audio and visual media along with flashing neon lights make it awe-inspiring. It becomes challenging to concentrate on any state that the neon lights border or the video dialogues that play for each state.

1min 4sec

Paik’s idea of the US states

Through this huge techno-sculpture, Paik not only articulated how he saw a diverse and multi-cultural country like the USA but also our future. Each state is represented through a video clip that conveys his understanding of it. Paik shows how our concept of the different states has been formed by film and television. While some states are represented by popular TV series or books, he uses his personal connections to depict some states. Kansas is represented by the Wizard of Oz2. To Paik, Oklahoma is all about potatoes, while composer John Cage3 represents his idea of Massachusetts, Arkansas shows footage by performance artist Charlotte Moorman4 and Washington shows choreographer Merce Cunningham5.

Missouri plays the movie “Meet Me In St. Louis6“, Kentucky scenes from the Kentucky Derby7, and Indiana scenes from the Indy 5008. In Iowa, the observer can see politicians campaigning during the Iowa caucuses9, while Illinois shows rapid scenes of Chicago with an occasional photo of Lincoln10. Colorado plays amateur sports, Mississippi scenes from the civil rights movement11, while Rhode Island only has a little tiny television. Lastly, scenes from the South Pacific12 are shown for Hawaii, Alaska is represented by ice and snow and South Dakota displays George McGovern13 and not Mt. Rushmore14, which arguably might be more recognizable.

These scenes and more were picked by Nam June Paik and show the US through his own lens.

Nam June Paik - Electronic Superhighway- Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft., at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Paik’s vision for the future

Paik named this video installation as Electronic Superhighway to express his vision for the future. He envisioned that in the future communication would be boundary-less due to advanced technology. It would be pertinent to mention that what Paik envisaged has now been manifested through the internet. In fact, the term is universally used today.

Inspired by the American highway system

On another level, the highway system of America which connects the nation inspired Paik to create the Electronic Superhighway. The video clips run very fast to imitate how one sees the country through a moving car.

Conclusion

The Electronic Superhighway continues to amaze people due to its sheer size and various interpretations. It draws our attention to how our world is defined by technology and also the problems it creates like stereotyping our ideas or information overload. In a nutshell, through this video art, Paik has successfully represented our time.

Location


Smithsonian American Art Museum
F St NW &, 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
+1 202-633-1000

Photos: Installation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995
Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft.

Nam June Paik - Electronic Superhighway- Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum 2
Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft.

Nam June Paik - Electronic Superhighway- Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft.

Nam June Paik - Electronic Superhighway- Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft.

Close-up of Nam June Paik - Electronic Superhighway- Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Close-up of Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft.

Close-up of Nam June Paik - Electronic Superhighway- Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Close-up of Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft.

Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995 close up
Close-up of Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft.

Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995 close up
Close-up of Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft.

All images Nam June Paik Estate/njpac-en.ggcf.kr unless otherwise noted.

Video: Nam June Paik’s Art & Revolution

48min 10sec

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More by Nam June Paik

Related works

Related readings
  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pacific_Ocean
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wizard_of_Oz_(1939_film)
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cage
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Moorman
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merce_Cunningham
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meet_Me_in_St._Louis
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kentucky_Derby
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indianapolis_500
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa_caucuses
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_rights_movement
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pacific_Ocean
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_McGovern
  14. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Rushmore
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