TV Buddha by Nam June Paik (1974)

Art is pondered to evoke in oneself a feeling one has experienced, and…then, by means of movements, lines, colours, sounds or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling (Tolstoy 1980). Throughout humanity’s existence difficulties and considerations coexist within the nature and functionality of art and communication. Within critical analysis of artworks an individual can identify emotions and thoughts that the encoded message of the artist has intended, as a result arouses the functions of these transmissions and translations of code to adapt to the way we understand the world (Deleuze, Guattari 1991).

First designed in 1974, the first installation featured for New York’s Galleria Bonino “Nam”. Paik’s TV Buddha brings together the past and present, the old and new, the real and illusory; depicting an array of messages from era to era. Nam June Paik endeavours to humanaize technology and electronic media, he advocates the potential of emerging technology to nurture interactivity within our global society (Hanzel 2001). The Buddha statue is presented in a quiet meditation mudra, however a video camera is simultaneously recording the statue and displaying the image on the television screen.  In this closed circuit where time is tampered with placed in an infinite everlasting loop, the sculpture is sitting opposite his own projected image, disallowing a state of enlightenment, exemplifying emerging media and technologies drastically juxtaposing the value of the religious and cultural status of the peaceful Buddha; challenging, searching and exposing the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (Benjamin 1936). Nam June Paik’s simplistic artwork and it’s movement has created a self representation of his own thoughts and self-parody and encodes the nature of the society he was present in at the time and to engage the audience traversing cultural boundaries (Hanzel 2001).

Inside the art piece TV Buddha (Paik 1974), interaction and interpretation are fundamental in the decoding of the artwork. The traditional Buddha statue sits in a meditative posture possessing a gaze turned inward in contemplation, this therefore affects the way the responder deals with the installation; where placing the Buddha in front of a viewing screen converts it into the art spectator’s double where contemplation can be then transferred to the viewer.

The external expression of the statue gives it a sense of interiority, however the medium itself through the television gives the statue its intended meaning whereby it is in fact the television unit that obtains the interior giving the value of contemplation. This point can be influenced by one’s physical reading regarding the point of vantage in witnessing Paik’s work, whether it be looking into the Buddha’s unseeing eyes illuminated by the glow from the TV screen or from the traditional scope depicted in photographs from over the shoulder of the statue depicted in photographs granting the audience of it’s line of sight which can be seen as playing off the term “the medium is the message” (Mcluhan) where the television apparatus displaying the sculpture depicts a wider insight of the Buddha and his natural state where an extension of himself allows the audience to feel a particular way toward the issues revolving around, society, religion and culture.

An idea of the artwork is to represent the complex juxtaposition between life before and after the century of technology (Searle, 2010). The work can present the spectator with a Kōan (a paradox to be meditated upon in discipline toward Zen and enlightenment)-like riddle situation questioning: how the Buddha can direct his gaze within and without at the same time (Watson 2007). A way to debunk this concept is to disregard the sense of uncovering what seeming factors Paik meant by his work, which can be lost in translation, rediscovered and manipulated, however, to consider the cultural and subjective experiences and knowledge of the individual reading the work present in today’s technological world is fundamental in decoding the message resulting in a multiple different readings.

TV Buddha (1976), was to emphasise the power in which media shadows over today’s society. Ideas are constantly encoded in order to arouse stimulation and questions in terms of Nam’s reasoning for his art (Ditolla, 2015). The representation and reception of the work in its translation can be easily skewed in terms of which party displays dependence, the works conveys how society relies on personal judgement, which is driven by technology, and in this case through television and what it encompasses. The interest of the statue is therefore reliant on it’s depicted image on the screen rather than the state of enlightenment that the traditional Buddhist adherent strives for (Searle, 2010) This therefore creates a binary between the statue and societies obsession of technology whereby it is normalized for this generation to be seated where the Buddha statue sits focused on a digital screen. Relating to the conceptual approach of Sol Lewitt there is a constant change for artists and communication through human interaction and development, by challenging the simple art approach it has allowed for a new understanding in communication art requiring the responder as a contributor and driving catalyst and composing ideas that define the laws of art.

Nam June Paik has instilled different aspect of time and relevance and has outlined a method for translating and transmitting different forms of art through code and innovation; this has allowed a more human like and interactive experience for the audience. Paik’s TV Buddha can now be seen as an icon for digital media art, he has successfully used technology to empower artists to enhance expression of culture and to transform the traditional standards of art. Though views differ from one another, which Paik intended. It allows the world to connect over the same grounds, building off his foundation to successfully transmit feelings and shape an understanding of the world.


  • Media Art Net / TV BUDDHA. 2015. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.
  • Hanzal, Carla. ‘Traversing The Worlds’. org. N.p., 2001. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.
  • Searle, Adrian. ‘Nam June Paik: Watch With Buddha’. the Guardian. N.p., 2010. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.
  • Ditolla, Tracy. ‘Spirituality, Religion, Symbolism And Art.’. Tracy Ditolla Web. 17 Aug. 2015.
  • Watson, J. 2007. ‘Don Dilillo and TV Buddha’, University of Georgia. 18 Aug. 2015
  • Tv Buddha. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.
  • Sauvin Yaundra, 2010. ‘Switch Talk TV Buddha, 1974’ <; 19 Aug. 2015



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