chapter  5
18 Pages

Ancestors, The Avant-garde, And The Making Of “culture” In Postcolonial Korea

On January 29, 2006, the foremost artist, composer and performer of Korean descent, Nam-june Paik, died at his winter home in Miami at the age of 73.1 His death was widely covered in the international media as the loss of the uncontested “inventor” of contemporary video art. In Korea, two days after his death, the National Museum of Contemporary Art (hereafter NMCA) turned The More the Better, its landmark installation by Paik unveiled in 1988 at the time of the Seoul Olympic Games, into a temporary altar to him (Figure 5.1). The commemoration of Paik went beyond the art community. On March 19, a day after Paik’s cremated ashes were returned to Korea, a public ritual with over a thousand participants was held to commemorate the forty-ninth day of his death in the Buddhist temple, Bonguˇnsa, in Seoul. At the ritual, the participants re-enacted Paik’s performances, by pounding and dropping candle gutters on a piano keyboard and shattering violins, and recreated his installation, The More the Better, in the shape of a tower with candles. At the end they burned the tower into ashes, as if to cremate the artist’s body.