Paik’s T.V Buddha and Lacan’s theory of the Mirror phase.

Found some footage of an installation of the T.V Buddha piece  by Nam June Paik. Originally exhibited in 1974.  I really like this amateur documentation,  the guy waiving in the background of this Youtube clip somehow draws out the sense of humour which I think is often overlooked when people consider this work, which was born from the same mischievous ‘hacker’ spirit as all Paik’s work.

Beyond this though, the work is literally about eastern philosophy meeting western media. And statuesque idols of old colliding with ephemeral electronic images in the present,  unfortunately the light hearted almost kitsch appeal of the work to contemporary audiences,  might overshadow a more serious consideration of what Paik was exploring here.

What is it about this narcissistic Buddha statue that is interesting?

One answer to that might come from considering Lacan’s theory of the mirror phase. The Mirror Phase , occurs  in child development roughly between six and eighteen months. This is believed by Lanan to be an important part in our social development. In the Mirror phase the child first discovers an ex-centralized image of them self, an image that relates to the self, but that does not contain the self or provide any solutions to the problems posed by the physical world. The reflected image can not resolve the search for identity that is sought, and a sense of uncertainty soon fills the void between the embodied sense of self and the reflected one, a crack thus becomes apparent in our general sense of self awareness. And so the child’s first awareness of his/her own image is an awareness characterised by a split. This is supposedly when the need for language arrives, language being a tool to fill the gap between the embodied sense of self and the ex-centric mirrored self in symbolic terms. Based on Lacan’s ideas then we can view language itself as an interface that performs a functional mediation between both our centric and ex-centric notions of self.

‘The Human being has a special relationship with his own image – a relation of gap, of alienating tension’ Jacques Lacan The Seninar. Book II. Pg 323

Interestingly Paik’s T.V Buddha video work was produced as a spontaneous gap-filler for an empty space in his fourth show in the Galeria Bonino, New York.

Maybe Paik did not fill the gap but was instead filled by the gap, and in closed circuit video  saw something that interacts with the gap fundamental in our sense of self awareness.

Paik’s T.V Buddha is like a sad joke, as the statue Buddha attempts to stare through the screen into infinity his vision is blocked by a symbolic reminder of his own physical situation in the world,  the T.V in it’s efforts to exert it’s own physical statuesque presence in imitation of the Buddha can only fill the void within itself by an ephemeral imitation of superficial appearances . The two entities become entangled and consumed by each other.

TV Buddha (1974) Closed Circuit video installation with bronze sculpture. image from


One thought on “Paik’s T.V Buddha and Lacan’s theory of the Mirror phase.

  1. Pingback: The Gold Buddha as source of illumination. | Andrewburgess Weblog

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