Christian Marclay: The Clock

“This will be one for the history books, art history in the making,” said the girl in front of me in line at the Paula Cooper gallery last Friday. This is not the first time that the word history has been associated with the conceptual artist and composer Christian Marclay. He has been revolutionary since the early 1970’s when he began to use and mix music using turntables. Scratching and manipulating the sound of vinyl records on a turntable is now dominantly associated with Hip-Hop. But, long before Hip-Hop became popular, Marclay was manipulating music in his performance sound-art pieces, following in the footsteps of composers like John Cage. Marclay would perform in gallery spaces and music venues, merging the two art forms together. During this early period in his work, Marclay would not only scrach records but break  them and reglue mix matched pieces of records together, the equivalent of the modern day mash up. See video below:

Today Marclay continues to work with sound. One of his better known pieces, Telephones, strings together moments of ringing phones from television and movies. When I first saw this piece at the Yale museum I was amazed at the fluent editing of the film, bringing together unrelated moments to form a seamless ringing and answering of telephones. The film is also a timecapusle of sorts that made homage to the development of the telephone, from dial-faced land line phones to bulky cell phones of the early 1990’s (the film was made in ’95).

“The Clock” works in the same vain, but on a monumental scale, the film runs for an entire 24 hour period. Due to the large amount of data the film is in digital format, held on an external hard-drive and shown through a digital projector, a process that is still considered unusual. The film runs in real time and, just like Telephones, strings together moments from international and Americans movies that either show clocks or have dialogue that muses on the meaning of time. When I say real time, I mean that when your wristwatch reads 10pm the movie is showing clips of clocks that read 10pm or people talking about how it is 10pm.

“The Clock”has received an astounding amount of press,  particularly in the days leading up to the closing, so when I showed up to see the exhibition  two Fridays ago I was meet with a massive line that stretched all the way back to 11th Avenue. I didn’t want to miss this “blockbuster” event so I got in line, expecting that I would be up to the gallery within the hour. Wrong. After an hour and a half of waiting and only moving a few feet towards the door I realized that I was in for a bit of a journey.

Waiting in line with nothing better to do I started to strike up conversations with the people around me. The first was the young woman who made the opening statement of this post. She said that she had heard that “The Clock” was amazing and not to be missed. As an artist herself, she was interested in seeing what type of art could gain such rave reviews and long lines of visitors. But after all her talk, she left the line due to boredom, swearing that she would be back at 2am when the line would be shorter. Another one bites the dust, I thought. This drop out only made me hungrier to make it into the gallery. So my survivor instincts kicked in and I tried to forget my tired feet and growling stomach. After two hours of waiting and starting to feel the stress I struck up a conversation with a bushy-browed man behind me, who had early asked me to hold his place while he went to go grab a slice of pizza. We began talking about the piece and our expectations and during our conversation he made a good point, “maybe this is all part of the piece, to wait in line, become aware, entrenched in time, and then get to the gallery and some guy shouts. ‘gotcah sucker.” I laughed but this man with a uni-brow had a point, the process of waiting in line was making me highly conscious of the time. It was all I could think about – what time it was, how much longer I would be in line for, how long I had already waited, everything hinged on time. But, the conversation keep me focused and I passed another hour talking about the guy’s obsession with Whitney Houston and watching her old music videos on YouTube. When we finally reached the stark white walls of the gallery, me and my partner stopped talking. Everyone inside was silent; it would only be a matter of minuets before we were in the theater.

Then I walked inside and sat down, prepared to have my world changed. “The Clock” did not disappoint. When I entered the darkened theater it had just turned 10pm and the flashing clocks on screen were chiming in the new hour. For the next hour that I sat in the theater, most of the clips that I saw revolved around people getting ready for bed, while others were young people getting ready to go out and party, their night reveries just beginning. I saw clips from “Back to the Future,” an unknown Woody Allen film and the horror flick, “Saw,” the rest where unknown. Although, the clip succeeding the previous one had no correlation to the other, the pairings were not jarring, rather there seemed to be an underlying rhythm to the film, that of the slow march of time. I do not want to say much, critically about The Clock due to the numerous articles written about it (links below) but I was just happy to be there to witness history in the making. After I left the theater I could not get the picture of people in the darkened theater continuing to watch the film while I ate dinner at a friend’s apartment close by.  Just as time continues on without regard for the individual, so does “The Clock,” I only which I could have stayed longer.

Since then, “The Clock” has brought a new awareness of time that has lasted for the past two weeks since I saw it, I seem to be more conscious of time. The film put time into perspective by making me carefully mark the passing seconds and minuets as I first waited in line and then as I watched movie and TV clips that visually displayed the passing moments. Using both music and image, Marclay made a tangible homage to time.

Review Links:
New York Times

New York Times Article on sound in “The Clock”

Art Info

Art Critical


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