Beyond translation: PhD student headed to Smithsonian to study art, technology, and global belonging

By Meghan Chua


There are two major collections of Korean American artist Nam June Paik’s work. Kyungso Min has already studied the collection at South Korea’s Nam June Paik Art Center. So, the natural next step for Min, a doctoral student in art history at UW–Madison, was to study the Nam June Paik Archive housed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

This summer, Min will have the chance to do just that as a Smithsonian Institution Fellow. The fellowship, awarded through the Big Ten Academic Alliance, supports doctoral research in residence at Smithsonian Institution facilities. Min will work with the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center starting this summer.

Min’s interest lies in new media art in transnational East Asia, particularly the forms of art that transcend the need for language to convey meaning. Paik was one of the first artists who used technology to create visual art, applying video techniques and live, broadcasted performances to share his art with the world.

Papers, figures, and old technologies including a television set that are part of the Nam June Paik archive collection are displayed.
Items from the Nam June Paik archive at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where doctoral student Kyungso Min will conduct research under a fellowship this summer. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum)

“He started thinking about new kinds of visual arts employing technologies in the mid-60s because there were so many latest technologies going to the markets,” Min said. “He drew in some of the latest developments in other fields into the fine arts.”

Though Paik is well known for his videos – he is widely considered to be the founder of video art – Min is interested in the series of satellite performances that Paik would air across the world at the same time. In these live events, the language was never the main form of communication, especially if that language was English. Min’s dissertation explores the idea that artists can develop transnational belonging and global intimacy through means other than language, oftentimes by using technology.

“We may not need a language translation in intercultural, international communications in the future,” Min said. “We may have other modes of communication, such as sound, light, human bodies, and maybe the technology itself.”

Min’s experiences in coming to the U.S. inspired her interest in this idea, which she calls post-translational belonging. “When I came to the U.S., I had many troubles, especially with the language. I feel that conventional system of language is a very big barrier to belonging somewhere,” she said.

Still, Min enjoyed being in Madison for her program. She has also spent much of her doctoral career traveling across East Asia to conduct research in South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong. She spent a summer in Seoul and traveling to other sites in South Korea supported by an Institute for Regional and International Studies Graduate Student Summer Fieldwork Award, and was also a Junior Fellow at the Kyujanggak Institute’s International Center for Korean Studies at Seoul National University, where she earned her first master of arts degree. In the last year, she’s been based in Tokyo, Japan, supported by a Japan Foundation Fellowship.

Her upcoming Smithsonian Institution Fellowship will add Washington, D.C. to that list.

“My field of studies gave me a really good opportunity to travel to many other places besides Madison and that was a really exciting part of my doctoral studies,” she said.

Min said she would like to return to Korea in the future and find a teaching job, while also building on the connections she has made through her research.

“I want to work in art institutions like museums or galleries curating, writing, and educating. During my research in East Asia I had a chance to meet some artists who are working now very actively so I want to develop that connection through those institutional platforms,” she said.