Nam Jun Paik (1932 – 2006) was an artist who used video displays and electronic parts in his art to comment on technology, culture, and mass communications. In 1990, the builders of One Franklin Town Apartments in downtown Philadelphia chose Paik to fulfill their city mandated requirement of including original public art in their development project.
The installation that Paik created consists of three rows of 20 televisions suspended by trellises covered in vines, hence the name “Video Arbor.” Each screen displays one of two fast moving videos consisting of colorful images that can best be described as “video graffiti.”
Due to the unusual and abstract nature of Paik’s piece, many observers (at least the people I questioned over the years I lived down the block from it ) and passers-by weren’t quite sure what to make of the flashing screens and did not realize it was an art installation. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Paik’s intersection of art and technology and I enjoyed an awesome exhibit of his work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1996.
Unfortunately, the technical complexity of Video Arbor made it difficult to maintain in working order and over the years there were long stretches of time when the display did not operate at all. Inevitably some of the CRT monitors became distorted or stopped working altogether. I’m assuming that the video source was multiple LaserDisc players, the only technology at the time that could withstand years of repeated playback, long before hard disk or solid state systems were practical.
Recently one evening I had occasion to pass by Video Arbor and I was pleasantly surprised to find all screens clearly operating with what appeared to be the original video playback. It looked to me like all of the original CRTs were replaced with modern flat screen displays and the video playback system was upgraded as well. Now that it appears to be restored and operating regularly, I encourage you to learn more about Paik’s work and check out Video Arbor for yourself!