An analysis of Paik’s ‘TV Buddha’ (1974)

“TV-Buddha”, 1974 – Nam June Paik

Nam June Paik’s Tv Buddha (1974) is the first of a series of TV Buddhas, which combine media and art to create a piece that is both timeless, aesthetic and thought provoking. TV Buddha effectively worked to create a new understanding of how we perceive modernity through its aesthetic simplicity and timeless theme of the self and technology. The piece also serves as a comment on privacy, our interaction with media and surveillance, as well as an understanding of ourselves in this technological age. As a pioneer in the Fluxus movement, Paik’s TV Buddha continues to remind audiences of the dominant presence of media and technology in our lives and how this can affect our sense of self.

“Paik’s installation is a symbolic and visual reminder of the media’s presence and dominance in our lives”

– Beudert,  “Spectacle pedagogy: Art, politics, and visual culture”, 2006

Born and raised in Korea, Paik then went on to Japan and Europe to train in Arts. During this time, he Paik developed both Eastern and Western influences, which he explored as a contemporary artist . As the “embodiment of interculturalism” (Smith, NAM JUNE PAIK’S TV BUDDHA AS BUDDHIST ART, 2005), Paik was able to use his knowledge and understandings of Eastern and Western culture as part of his creative process. This included the Eastern influences of Buddhism and Buddhist art (Smith 2005) and the influence of Western artist movements, such as avant-garde and minimalism (Beudert 2006).

Core components of Paik’s approach to contemporary art involved collage, assemblage, montage, installation and performance art, which he used to challenge perceptions of norms and patterns (Beudert 2006). Paik was also in one of the first generations to grow up with a television, which expanded his influences beyond arts and culture to also include commercial media (Lovejoy 2004).

TV Buddha, which involves a television monitor, video camera, painted bronze Buddha, tripod and plinth, combines genres of performance, installation and sculpture (Lovejoy 2006). To create the piece, Paik assembled ready-made objects from two opposing manufactured processes: the Buddha statue, which was hand made object, and the television, which was a mass-produced and factory made object (Deleflie 2015). With the added video feed of the Buddha projected on the television, the assembled piece is both a still piece and a live piece.

While the objects involved are still, the video feed is live. “The statue faces the monitor and camera as if watching the television image of itself.” (Lodato,”A treatise on the loop as a desired form: visual feedback and relational new media”, 2010). By placing the monitor in an out-of-context environment, Paik subverts and challenges the viewer’s visual relations and interpretations of television usage (Lovejoy 2004).

“Paik’s structures echo the Fluxus movement’s emphasis on subverting the everyday to demystify it.”

– Lovejoy, “Digital currents: art in the electronic age”, 2004

One design feature of TV Buddha is the closed-circuit of infinite loops. This essentially involves an infinite loop of the Buddha gazing at the TV screen, with the image of himself recorded by the closed-circuit camera (Deleflie 2015, Lodato 2010).

“The loop is as much in space as it is a space.”

– Lodato, “A treatise on the loop as a desired form: visual feedback and relational new media”, 2010

Within the infinite loops of the piece is the repetition provided by the video loop. This repetition involves the thought process of the viewer to circle from “easily-read, culturally-embedded symbols”, to critical analysis of the media’s role in our lives, to the aesthetics of the piece and back again. This process allows us to acknowledge the power and force of media on our lives and to then to think about it differently. This is possible because the television, while familiar to all audiences, is placed out of context. This forces the viewer to re-evaluate the way they understand and perceive media and technology (Hamilton 2004). This repetition is both architectural and conceptual. While the spectator views a live feed, they do not see change, making the repetition reflexive (Lodato 2010).

The nature of this timeless loop is an interior one. This means the spectator is external from the loop, making the audience consider the loop as a structure and their feedback as an action (Lodato 2010).

“One can watch watching and observe observing, yet never be watched and be observed. The loop is fixed, and therefore contrived, as an experience.”

– Lodato “A treatise on the loop as a desired form: visual feedback and relational new media”, 2010

The spectator and the spectacle

Paik’s concept for TV Buddha is similar to media theorist, Neil Postman’s, theories on technology. Postman argues that within every technology there is often a hidden and powerful idea that may have serious consequences. He also argues that new technology is ecological, that is, new mediums change the entire way we interact with, consume and live (Deleflie 2015). TV Buddha explores the relationship between the subject and media technology, contemplating the potential control of media over its viewers. While both Paik and Postman are cautious towards the potential of media control over the individual, they also identify the possibility of promise that the relationship between media and individual offers. They identify that there is a fine line between the potential for cultural exchange and dominance of media over the individual (Hamilton 2004).

Reference List:

Beudert L, 2006, Spectacle pedagogy: Art, politics, and visual culture: A.International Journal of Education and the Arts, 9. Available at: http://www.ijea.org/v9r2/v9r2.pdf. Accessed 14 August 2015.

Deleflie, E 2015, Community & Communication, lecture, MEDA102 Computational Media, University of Wollongong, delivered 6 August.

Deleflie, E 2015, Art, Craft & Technology, lecture, MEDA102 Computational Media, University of Wollongong, delivered 13 August.

Hamilton J, 2004, The way we loop now: eddying in the flows of media, Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture, 8. Available at: http://www.itc.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/Issue_8/issue8_hamilton.pdf, accessed 16 August 2015.

Lodato, T. J. (2010). A treatise on the loop as a desired form: visual feedback and relational new media, p65-69. Available at: https://smartech.gatech.edu/bitstream/handle/1853/33880/lodato_thomas_j_201005_mast.pdf?sequence=1. Accessed 16 August 2015.

Lovejoy M, 2004, Digital currents: art in the electronic age. Routledge. Available at: https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=0Aw1nuFZ5NUC&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=tv+buddha&ots=mzNae-Of9d&sig=BNp6gg4vKk4BgDwItRy-evI_3Yo#v=onepage&q=tv%20buddha&f=false. Accessed 14 August 2015.

Smith W, 2000, NAM JUNE PAIK’S TV BUDDHA AS BUDDHIST ART, Religion & The Arts, 4(3):359-373. Available at: http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=a5dd9e22-72fe-4423-9f1e-cf7c9284ec6d@sessionmgr4003&hid=4208, Accessed 14 August 2015.

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About intersectionalalien

Hi hello people of earth/space/cyberspace, intersectional alien here. I’m still trying to figure out my place on this earth. I like intersectional feminism, feminism in popular culture, LGBTQ+, refugee rights, veganism, mental health, nihilism, travelling, unlearning institutional conditioning, good tunes and consuming and creating stories.
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