Nam Paik, Electronic Superhighway, 1995
Use this primary source imagery to analyze major events in history.
- Use this primary source with The National Highway Act Narrative to analyze the impact that interstate highways and infrastructure improvements had on the United States.
The National Defense Highway Act, signed into law by President Eisenhower in June 1956, was the largest public works project in U.S. history. As a young soldier in 1919, Dwight Eisenhower toured the nation to test its roads for the U.S. Army. The poor conditions he witnessed during his travel coupled with his exposure to the German autobahn during World War II strengthened his belief that the United States needed an efficient, stable, national highway system. He became further resolved in his opinion when the Cold War began at the end of World War II. The threat of an attack by the Soviet Union made military transportation and civilian evacuation routes from cities even more essential. This new highway system helped connect the nation by making travel and the movement of economic goods faster and more accessible for Americans.
Korean American artist Nam Paik came to the United States in 1964, when the interstate highway system was only nine years old. The highway system inspired his 1995 installation entitled Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii. In this work, Pak placed 336 televisions together behind neon tubing shaped into the outline of the United States. Each TV played video footage that had a cultural link with the state in front of it. For example, Kansas had televisions showing footage from the Wizard of Oz. Look carefully at the art for several minutes before answering the questions that follow.
- Who created this piece of art?
- What connections can you see between the national highway system passed under Eisenhower and this piece of art?
- (Figure 1) Notice the way that neon tubing and the TV screens form the design. How did the artist convey both interconnectivity and unique identity?
- (Figure 1) Consider the time when this was created. How do you think that affected Paik in his design?
- (Figure 1) List two examples showing how the artist depicted the “electronic superhighway” in a positive way.
- (Figure 1) List an example showing how the artist depicted the “electronic superhighway” in a negative way.
- (Figure 1) This installation is 15 feet high and 40 feet long. What might the size reveal about the artist’s message?
Historical Reasoning Questions
- In the modern day, humans are able to use technology to connect with others around the globe in a matter of seconds. What are some potential advantages of this within and between societies? What are some potential disadvantages?
- In Electronic Superhighway, Paik implies that the twenty-first century will be dominated by media and electronics. Has his prediction come true? Explain your answer.
Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/electronic-superhighway-continental-us-alaska-hawaii-71478