A celebration of the legacy of Dada artist Marcel Duchamp continues in the Video Gallery with Homage to Duchamp (Part II): Nam June Paik and Shigeko Kubota, featuring Nam June Paik’s Merce by Merce by Paik and Shigeko Kubota’s Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. The works will be on view sequentially from August 30 to November 6, 2005.
Merce by Merce by Paik (1978, 28 minutes, 45 seconds, Video transferred to DVD) by Nam June Paik (Korean, born 1932, active United States) is one of the most influential representations of choreography on video (sometimes called “videodance”). Divided into two distinct parts, Blue Studio: Five Segments and Merce and Marcel, this work celebrates the work of both Merce Cunningham and Marcel Duchamp, and will be on view August 30 to October 2, 2005.
In the first segment, designed by Charles Atlas, the viewer is confronted by a suite of short dance/video vignettes in which Cunningham inhabits both the space of the dance studio and a virtual space fashioned from modern technology. Utilizing a “blue screen” technique, Cunningham is multiplied and transported into a variety of locales: the beach, a dirt road, a busy highway, and an urban landscape. The video is whimsically enhanced by additional overlaid images (including a dog, a croaking frog, and a playful gorilla), making this already captivating presentation even more entertaining.
At the beginning of the second segment, a voiceover states, “Television obscures art in life and life in art – a theme favored by the late Marcel Duchamp, who believed a toilet bowl could be a work of art.” This idea becomes a major theme in Merce and Marcel, as Paik and Kubota link Duchamp’s philosophical insights regarding the nature of art with everyday movements. From a baby’s first steps to a dramatic aerial view of taxicabs moving through the streets of New York City, the viewer is confronted with ways in which dance is perceived and recognized. The work also contains Russell Connor’s 1964 interview with Duchamp, which is edited to present Duchamp’s statements in a rapid, staggered progression. Later, footage from a 1976 interview with Cunningham (also by Conner) is superimposed with the earlier Duchamp interview, creating what Paik termed a “dance of time,” showcasing the temporal possibilities that video provides.
The second part of the homage to Duchamp, Shigeko Kubota’s Marcel Duchamp and John Cage (1972, 28 minutes, 27 seconds, Video transferred to DVD, Black and white with sound) pays tribute to the two artists who have most profoundly influenced her work: Duchamp and John Cage. A major contributor to the avant-garde Fluxus movement of the 1960s known for Happenings and performances, Kubota (Japanese, born 1937, active United States) met Cage while still living in Japan, and it was also there that she became intrigued by the art and theories of Duchamp. This video will be on view from October 4 to November 6, 2005.
In 1968, Kubota photographed Reunion, a chess match/concert played in Toronto by Cage and Duchamp. The face-off between the two artistic giants was novel: The chessboard was constructed with electrical circuits so that moves on the board transmitted or interrupted sounds produced by a group of attending musicians. With the photographs taken during the match, Kubota created a book and a videotape, both entitled Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. The video juxtaposes the Reunion event with additional footage related to the two artists: Cage’s heartfelt recollection of his friendship with Duchamp, Kubota at Duchamp’s gravesite, and even Cage having his brain waves measured by Nam June Paik. Set against a mesmerizing soundtrack, the images from the chess match fade in and out and are manipulated further by the artist’s striking processing techniques, leaving a polarized quality to the imagery. By placing this footage on video, Kubota humanizes these two great artists, and extends the life of this now famous musical performance.