Nam June Paik’s Etude and the Indeterminate Origins of Digital Media Art

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Gregory Zinman

Georgia Institute of Technology
@gregzinman
Speaker Website
MITH Conference Room
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
12:30 pm

This talk describes the discovery and significance of Etude (1967), a previously unknown work by media artist Nam June Paik identified by the author in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s recently-acquired Paik archive. Composed at Bell Labs, in collaboration with engineers, and written in an early version of FORTRAN, Etude stands as one of the earliest works of digital artalthough it is not entirely clear whether Etude was, in fact, the “computer opera” that Paik mentions elsewhere in his writings, or another artwork altogether. By exploring Etude’s uncertain status, as well as the piece’s more conceptual indeterminacies—between image and code, analog and digital, and film and music—this paper demonstrates how such indefinite artifacts allow for a rethinking of the nature of the archive, cinema’s digital past, and film’s place in computational media.

See below for a Storify recap of this Digital Dialogue, including live tweets and select resources referenced by Zinman during his talk.

Gregory Zinman is an Assistant Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech. Before arriving at Georgia Tech, he was an ACLS New Faculty Fellow in the Film Program at Columbia University and the scholar-in-residence at the New York Film-Makers’ Cooperative. In 2013, he was Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, working on the Nam June Paik Archive. He is currently completing his first book, Handmade: The Moving Image Without Photography, which provides a theoretical and historical framework for understanding craft-based moving image practices, from painted film to new media. He is also editing, with John Hanhardt and Edith Decker-Phillips, Nam June Paik: Selected Writings (forthcoming from The MIT Press).

Zinman’s writing on film and media has been published in The New Yorker, American Art, Film History, Animation Journal, MIRAJ, and Millennium Film Journal. His current research is supported by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He serves as a curatorial consultant to the Yale University Art Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and has programmed film and media art at the Film-makers’ Co-op, the Museum of the Moving Image, Asia Society New York, and the Ann Arbor Film Festival, as well as a number of venues in Atlanta. His website, handmadecinema.com, received the 2015 award for “Best Electronic Reference Site,” from the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association.

Zinman holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University, a BA in American Studies from Yale University, and a MA in Cinema Studies from NYU.

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