Vide-O-belisk is an assemblage designed by Nan June Paik, generally considered the father of video art. Standing nineteen feet (6 m), the sculpture is made from twenty-four vintage television receivers, stacked to form an obelisk. The TVs display three distinct video loops. One features the most significant art objects from the Brooks’ permanent collection, along with visual references to ancient Egypt—an obvious allusion to the fact that Memphis, Tennessee was named for the city on the Nile. Another is devoted to the advent of television—it includes key moments such as man’s landing on the moon and an Elvis Presley performance, as well as the essential mechanical parts of television technology. The third displays musical instruments and performances, the inspiration for this project. John Cage, Laurie Anderson, and Charlotte Moorman, as well as other significant composers and performing artists who worked together with Paik appear in this footage. The television sets are flanked by neon lights that reference different forms of communication—Egyptian hieroglyphics, a telephone, a musical note. In all, Vide-O-belisk is a monument both to communications and art. Its central location in the Brooks’ rotunda makes it the first work of art one encounters when entering the museum and the gateway to the mid-South’s most encyclopedic art collection.
Paik famously claimed that “Skin has become inadequate in interfacing with reality. Technology has become the body’s new membrane of existence.”
Says Luis Seixas, the curator for the Paik Sessions project, “We hope you will work within the spirit of Paik’s radical call for new art forms as you create your composition.”