Nam June Paik
(1932, Keijō, Empire of Japan (now Seoul)–2006, Miami)
Statue of Buddha, 1 CRT TV set,
1 CCTV camera, dimensions variable
Nam June Paik Art Center, Republic of Korea
Korean-American artist Nam June Paik was a pioneer of video art. As early as the 1960s he began using video images, CRT TV sets, and video recorders as a means of producing large sculptures and performances. TV Buddha is one of the most recognisable works of twentieth-century multimedia art, seamlessly combining symbols of different traditions (East/ West) and approaches to life (traditional/contemporary). The encounter between two seemingly incompatible objects (an antique sculpture of Buddha demonstrating a gesture (mudra) that signifies tranquillity and absence of fear and a TV with a camera attached to it) creates a looped composition that is an original visualization of infinity stretched between the multimedia future and the Buddhist practice of the contemplation of life, which dates back thousands of years.
But that is not all. Apart from the clashing of different worldviews, TV Buddha transcends discussions of the issues of its time, bringing to mind the contemporary anxiety caused by the development of surveillance technology and the mass digitization of the everyday life. Paik must have been aware of the prophetic potential of his art, anticipating the radical transformation of the world and its pace thanks to the influence of technology. Although today the technology he chose for his work appears outdated, his ideas (such as his famous phrase “the future is now”) remain relevant.