TV BUDDHA, Nam June Paik (1976).

Art is considered in many cultures to be a way of understanding how the world works. (Hanzal, 2001) Through conceptual and critical analysis of artworks over time, the messages that are encoded into these artworks are eventually decoded through these methods of analysis. (Ditolla, 2015) Through the subjective framework many artists utilise their current surroundings, emotions and thoughts – encoding it into their work to make the audience feel something. The analysis of these artworks can bring about many different questions, such as how the artistic language turns into code, the actions that were done to produce the artwork and the translation limitations of the artwork. (Hanzal, 2001)

Coding and Codification

The artwork TV Buddha (Paik, 1976) strategically and skilfully put together by artist Nam June Paik conveys many different messages relevant and received throughout the years. The artwork raises questions among the audience about the mass media ideologies of the time. (Hanzal, 2001) The artwork by Paik proposes the instillation of a Buddha, which is a man-made object, and juxtaposes it beside the television. The television represents the emerging technologies and effects of modernisation during that time, which is ironic when contrasted with the Buddha, which is a religious symbol of peace and tranquillity – quite the opposite of the technological ‘world.’ The instillation is a representation of Nam June Paik’s simple yet thoughtful movement to represent and encode messages of his society during that time. (Hanzal, 2001)

The instillation of the Buddha watching himself in the television with the circuit is broad in aesthetic movement and represents the concerns of vanity in contemporary times. The fact that the artist reproduced this artwork in different forms – each with different questions raised – for 20 years, shows that the message being conveyed has not changed. (Searle, 2010) The most prominent idea is that the Buddha is contemplating his own image – a prevalent message in society throughout the centuries, which continues to be relevant today. (Ditolla, 2015)

Paik was well aware of the issues and concerns of society during the time such as new technologies and the media, encoding these ideas into his artwork to be received and decoded by his audience. Though these messages may be limited due to lack of understanding by the artwork’s audience throughout the years, and misconception’s of how he intended it to be portrayed. (Kane, 2009)

Instructions and procedure action

Nam June Paik’s main concern was to humanise technology and the media, as he felt disconnected from what he was seeing from the effects of modernisation. There were limitations as to how Paik could represent his ideas of the media through his work, as technology itself was limited during this time. (, 2015)

The instillation captures a man-made Buddha sitting before a television on a continuous circuit. His artwork was made before the introduction of the Internet, which conveyed his knowledge of upcoming changes that were to occur following new technologies. (Kane, 2009) The Internet wasn’t available for the exposure of his works, and due to this factor, the work was only seen years after becoming a historic symbol of modernisation and the introduction of technology. During the process of creating his instillation, Paik made attempts to remove the medium in his work. He wished to create something out of the ordinary that would capture an audience’s attention. The integration of technology into a still art form is a reminder of his attempt to mention the new art forms of the modern century. (Searle, 2010)

Translation and transmission

The final and most obvious step in his artwork is the interpretation and interaction with the audience. The artwork brings about many questions about the meaning, which is intended. (, 2015) A limitation imposed by this artwork is the misunderstandings from the audience, however the idea of the artwork is t represent the complex juxtaposition between life before and after the century of technology. (Searle, 2010) The instillation shows a Buddha, which was hand-produced and took several hours to make, continuously shown on a television presenting an image of the Buddha himself. This itself opens up two contrasting ideas of mass produced, ready-made objects against objects of time and effort. The work mentions time amongst its many meanings, showing that this is an infinite loop – what started first? (Hanzal, 2001) The new technologies are never going to end. The purpose of the work is to give instructions to future generations to consider the complexity of technology and encourage the artworks audience to delve deeper into meanings of the instillation. The meaning of the artwork also opens possibilities of society understanding its self-absorption through technology that is being represented by the Buddha and the television. (Kane, 2009)

Paik’s main concern which was conveyed through his artwork, TV Buddha (1976), was to make mention of the strength the media has on society – in particular the television – and to encode many idea in order to raise questions in years to come regarding the meaning of his work. (Ditolla, 2015) The general reception of the instillation is that the Buddha is mediating to an image of himself, a message to show the self-absorption of society. As well as portraying this message, he made several attempts to juxtapose the two lifestyles through prominent symbols of the time. (, 2015)

The representation and reception of the work could potentially be misunderstood, however the idea is to show societies obsession with their own image, which is fuelled by technology, the media and television. The self-absorption of the Buddha is shown in an ironic manner of the Buddhist society, as it is mediated. (Searle, 2010) The Buddha is meditation in a westernised way, as people would in the 21st century – in front of the television, which also show’s Paik’s obsession with irony through his work to convey a message. It represents the idea that westernisation proposes we are better off with technology. (Searle, 2010)

The notion of movement in the work challenges the difference between video and technology of the time. The work brings up an interesting idea about privacy, as the Buddha is constantly watching himself, however the audience is viewing this. He is being watched, and it may open up more questions about the notion for surveillance in society. (Kane, 2009)

There are several ideas and many different interpretations based upon the reception of the TV Buddha instillation. It mentions many themes and ideas that are prevalent and relevant to society back in the 1970’s and the 21st century, as it is being viewed now. (Searle, 2010) The processes used in creating the work also provoke many ideas and messages to be decoded as an audience and how the artistic language can be used as a code to convey a message. (Kane, 2009)


  1. Hanzal, Carla. ‘Traversing The Worlds’. N.p., 2001. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

2. Ditolla, Tracy. ‘Spirituality, Religion, Symbolism And Art.’. Tracy Ditolla 2015. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.

3.,. ‘Nam June Paik: Section 3’. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.

4. Searle, Adrian. ‘Nam June Paik: Watch With Buddha’. the Guardian. N.p., 2010. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

5. Kane, Carolyn. ‘The Cybernetic Pioneer Of Video Art: Nam June Paik’. N.p., 2009. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.

6. Tv Buddha. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

7. Media Art Net / TV BUDDHA. 2015. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.

8.,. N.p., 2015. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

9.,. N.p., 2015. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.


One thought on “TV BUDDHA, Nam June Paik (1976).

  1. Gem Mallorca says:

    Good day! May I ask for your email address? I would like to send an email to ask for permission to use this image in our publication. I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you very much!


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