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Active, Disorienting, and Transitional: The Aesthetic of Boredom in the Works of Nam June Paik (1932-2006)
Research Mentor and Department
The term boredom has a long and complex history. Boredom has been a topic of interest for both critical theorists and artists from various disciplines since antiquity. In the sixties, the meaning of the term boredom took on new significance as several art critics employed the term “boredom” to describe contemporary artworks. One artist from this period did not hesitate to describe his artworks as boring: Nam June Paik (1932-2006), a multimedia artist known for his avant-garde installations, sculptures, videos, and films. In my study, I argue that an aesthetic of boredom underlies certain works by Paik that employ particular artistic strategies, inducing a constant shift between physical, spatial, and temporal boundaries.
Taking a chronological approach, my study focuses on three seminal works by Paik: Zen for Film (1964, film/installation), Global Groove (1973, video), and The More the Better (1988, video/sculpture). In my first chapter, I argue that Paik’s minimalist work Zen for Film puts the viewer in an ambiguous viewing position, allowing the viewer to establish multiple relationships with the installation site that induce an aesthetic of what I call “active boredom.” Then, I turn to Paik’s Global Groove, arguing that its aesthetic of “disorienting boredom” embraces elements of both structure and fragmentation. Finally, in my third chapter, I examine the multiple sets of aesthetic and ideological tension generated by Paik’s The More the Better within the historical context of South Korea’s political transition in 1988—these sets of tension constitute an aesthetic of “transitional boredom.”
An aesthetic of boredom promises to provide a new understanding of today’s contemporary artworks, including literary works, films, and videos. My study aims to achieve the following two goals: the development of a distinct aesthetic of boredom, and a new understanding of Paik’s interdisciplinary works through the lens of such an aesthetic category.