How do works of art endure over time in the face of aging materials and changing interpretations of their meaning?

How do decay, technological obsolescence, and the blending of old and new media affect what an artwork is and can become? And how can changeable artworks encourage us to rethink our assumptions of a work of art as fixed and static? Revisions—Zen for Film explored these questions through Zen for Film, one of the most evocative artworks by the Korean-American artist Nam June Paik (1932–2006). Created during the early 1960s, Zen for Film consists of the screening of blank film leader for several minutes. As the film ages and wears in the projector, the viewer is confronted with a constantly evolving work. Revisions—Zen for Film provided a fresh perspective on an artwork with a rich history of display by asking precisely what, how, and when is Zen for Film?

Developed during a two-year Andrew W. Mellon “Cultures of Conservation” Fellowship at Bard Graduate Center, Revisions—Zen for Film offered a unique and intimately focused encounter with the materiality of Paik’s work. The exhibition was accompanied by a digital interactive with contributions by BGC master’s students and a publication of the same name published by the University of Chicago Press.

“This succinct presentation [of Zen for Film] took the form of a proposition: At a glance, the three-part display conjured a daunting variety of factors—including medium, duration, presentation, classification, nomenclature, and methods of distribution—that have contributed to the work’s complex identity…”

—Jeffrey Weiss, Artforum

A Focus Project curated by Hanna Hölling, Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor, Cultures of Conservation, at Bard Graduate Center. Focus Projects are small-scale academically rigorous exhibitions and publications that are developed and executed by Bard Graduate Center faculty and postdoctoral fellows in collaboration with students in our MA and PhD programs.

Exhibition Preview

Digital Interactive

This digital interactive provides two paths to explore Nam June Paik’s Zen for Film. The first, Zen for Film, highlights a selected history of the artwork’s presentation and documentation and provides information on the artist and Fluxus. The second, Related Works, explores a number of artworks that can be viewed as potential inspirations, antecedents, and contemporaries. The artworks are linked and can be filtered by conceptual associations——boredom, chance, materiality, nothingness, silence, time, trace——that correspond to the viewers’ experience of Zen for Film. Each path offers the user a choice of images. Click on an image and the artwork will appear in a larger scale along with its related interpretive text. Use the “return” button on the upper left of the screen to go back one level.


Works Cited