Nam June Paik Tate Liverpool exhibition banner

Meditation & Manipulation

Paik’s first television experiments such as Magnet TV were revolutionary in many ways: they represented a pioneering creative exploration of television’s physical and electronic structure, as well as a critical exploration of the potential for artistic manipulation offered by this new medium. Also revolutionary was the emphasis Paik placed, in relation to these works, on the participation of viewers; indeed, the works could often only be ‘completed’ by means of audience participation.

In 1963 Paik returned to Japan to explore and learn new television technologies. There he met the engineer Shuya Abe, with whom he created a ‘video-synthesiser’, a machine designed to produce and modify digital images. The video-synthesiser offered the radically democratic potential for anyone to create artistic images without the need for specialist knowledge or experience.

In the late 1960s Paik began to employ closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems in his video sculptures. In TV Buddha Paik uses CCTV to create an enigmatic technological interpretation of Zen Buddhism. Looking at his own reflection on a television monitor, or at a single candle in an empty cabinet, Paik’s Buddha suggests the infinite cycle of life, death and rebirth, as well as the interconnectivity between the spiritual and the technological. Paik’s inclusive approach to contrasting ideas and traditions made this his signature motif, prompting him to come back to the subject on a number of occasions.