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Cybernated Art

Cybernated Art for a Cybernated World

 From Cybernated Art - Nam June Paik (pg.227)

by Victor Quadros and Max Fruitman


        Through his experimental avant-garde work with televisions, Nam June Paik is considered a pioneer in the new media field of video art. Since its inception, video art has sought out to be cybernetic and interactive while simultaneously creating new forms of history. Cybernetics may be defined as the exploration of controlled processes in mechanical, electrical and biological systems. Using the cathode-ray tube as a canvas, Paik has positioned himself as a leader in interactive performances associated with new media video.  Paik’s work, like most video art, seeks to “reveal our culture as much as it reveals the nature of video art” (227). His piece Cybernated Art, serves as a manifesto, providing a cybernetic/Buddhist context for his work as a whole.

        The piece itself consists of five clauses expressing Paik’s view of what constructs cybernetic art. Paik suggests that art is a crucial aspect of life itself, cybernetic or not. Being exposed to cybernetic art may cure frustrations caused by cybernetics in your life. In other words, a person needs to build up a resistance through exposure to tolerate higher forms of cybernated art. Paik references McLuhan’s “Media is the message” to signify that the medium of the technology used in cybernated art is just as important as the message being transmitted. Cybernated art is a transdisciplinary art, crossing multiple platforms to evoke its meaning. Paik ends his manifesto by claiming that cybernated art is a weapon in itself (reference televisions role in WWII) that allows for a disruption in power.

        In relation to McLuhan’s first law, video art, through the use of videotape and television, enhances the ways in which the observer interacts with technology in order to question dominant ideologies of society. Likewise, video art encourages the discovery of something already present, but undefined and unexplored. Video art depicts McLuhan’s third law also because it appropriates the use of a medium. Television is used as a weapon to alter society, or “enabling the weak to win over the strong,” serving as a revision of its initial use as a commercial form of mass entertainment (229).

(Written by Victor Quadros)


        Nam June Paik's "Cybernated Art" (1966) is a manifesto declaring the principles of cybernated, or computer-controlled, art. Well known as the very first video artist, Paik is very concerned with the nature of novel, interactive, and timely media. To read this manifesto is not to understand it, however. This passage might be very cryptic, even hopelessly confounding, to a reader that does not have an understanding of cybernated art, "shock and catharsis", Marshall McLuhan, or the technology of the cathode-ray tube. As such, this paper will interpret first, and analyze second.

        Paik begins by stating that computer-controlled art is very important. However, art for a computer-controlled life is even more important. He continues to point out that art for this computer-controlled life need not be computer controlled itself.

        Paik elaborates on this idea by suggesting that in the context of a computer-driven society, effective art should in fact include an equally computer-driven shock and catharsis, or realization, derived from the art. 

        Paik then goes on to relate the ideas of Marshall McLuhan to his own. He points out that McLuhan's famous phrase "Media is message" was not entirely original, that this idea of medium being just as important as message goes back even further in technological history. 

        Then comes Paik's most concise statement as to what exactly cybernated art should be. He posits that cybernated art is the exploitation of boundary regions between various sciences. To paraphrase, cybernated art occurs when the most timely technology, across multiple fields, is utilized to create a work of art.

        Finally, Paik ends his manifesto by relating his experiences with cybernated art to his experiences with Buddhism. He claims that life itself is dominated by the idea that the strong prevail over the weak. For the first time in history, Paik claims, this was reversed when the cathode-ray tube was invented in the 1920's. This change is representative of the Buddhist "Third way", and clearly a main source of inspiration for the world's first video artist. 

        In Laws of Media (1988), Marshall McLuhan asserted his ideas about a tetrad of media effects. These effects, Enhancement, Obsolescence, Retrieval, and Reversal, are the starting point for an examination of the effects a medium has on society at large. In the analysis of any medium, these four effects are meant to exist together. In relation to cybernated art and Nam June Paik's manifesto regarding cybernated art, Enhancement is undoubtedly the most applicable and important effect. 

        Cybernated art enhances the modern, computer-driven world. That is, cybernated art utilizes the most modern technologies and ideas and utilizes these media to evoke a release of emotion and realization from individuals who share this cybernated world. One can argue that this catharsis is the goal of art itself.

        This catharsis in the individual experiencing the cybernated art is the precise goal of Nam June Paik in his works. He was the first person to take advantage of early video technology to realize this broad and fantastic goal, and that is why he will live forever, known as the world's first video artist. 

(Written by Max Fruitman)