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By David Finkelstein | July 7, 2006

This video would be impossible to appreciate without the filmmaker’s explanation: in the 1970s, video art pioneer Nam June Paik made recordings of black and white Korean television. Paik used the primitive analogue tape decks of the time to record the commercials only, leaving out the shows. The tape deck (maybe an open-reel portapak?) caused multiple glitches and horizontal noise to be displayed at each edit point.

“Nam June Paik’s Fingerprints” consists of the Johnsons’ re-edit of this material in tribute to Paik: they have cut out the commercials, and included only the glitches, which are the “fingerprints” of Paik’s editing choices.

I actually found it fascinating to watch, but not at all for the reasons that the filmmakers claim they intended. Paik’s editing choices are mechanical (a cut at every commercial) and not artistic. The glitches and video noise, while they may have been interesting 35 years ago, are now familiar.

However, the small glimpses one can catch here of Korean television commercials from the early 1970s are truly bizarre and intriguing. Even American television from that era would seem strangely innocent and chaste, but Korean commercials from long ago seem to come from a world where men in tuxedos, perky young mothers, and beaming children frolic to infantile pop music, while blissfully consuming snacks, motor oil, razors, and instant Japanese soup. No wonder artists of that era grabbed at their first opportunity to seize upon that raw material and manipulate it, even if they did not yet possess the tools to do it with much finesse.

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