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February 2011, Christian Marclay @ Paula Cooper Gallery


Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010
Installation view, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, NY (1/21- 2/19/11)
Copyright Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

 

Christian Marclay: The Clock
Paula Cooper Gallery
534 West 21ST Street
NY, NY 10011
January 21 through February 19, 2011

I hope you didn’t miss seeing at least half an hour of Christian Marclay’s 24 hour video juggernaut, The Clock, which ran at Paula Cooper Gallery from January 21 to February 19 with special 24-hour screenings every Friday. (Judging by the lines going down 21st street to 11th avenue the last few days, I’m guessing you probably didn’t.) I had read a little about the screening of The Clock last fall when it ran in London at White Cube, how it was “mesmerizing” and “constructed of moments of cinema”, but I hadn’t read many more revealing details about the work’s content or about how it was produced. Even if I had, I imagine it would have had an equally powerful effect on me. It is insanely layered and hypnotic.

I first saw the work around 2:20 on a Thursday afternoon. It was quickly evident that it is a montage - seemingly random clips from various films, and perhaps television programs, put together in a remix attempt. The clips were going by fast. A peak in action would rise in one and then it would cut to the next. There were clips from 30’s or 40’s films, set in front of London's Big Ben, clips from early 70’s Westerns, one of Orson Wells reciting a monologue from a black and white film, one of John Travolta in the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3… one of Denzel Washington, high drama and suspense. Just as I was searching for some link in the fragmented narratives, I started to pick up on the clocks in each scene. Time is the thread that links all of these clips. I was watching a time-based work that features time as its subject, manifest in various timepieces. Then it dawned on me that in each clip, the clock featured, or the watch, appeared to be stuck at 2:26. No, it was 2:27. The clocks in each scene were keeping time. Wait a minute, what time was it? I discreetly pulled out my phone - 2:27. I looked up to the screen; the clock read 2:28. I looked back at my phone again and it was 2:28. For just a moment, before I could pin point exactly what was going on with the work, the realization that the time in the video was mirroring time at this location, in this space, produced an unsettling feeling that I can only describe as uncanny. I was tricked for a moment, and had a slightly paranoid feeling that the work assumed some life of its own and somehow knew what time it was. And then I realized that in actuality, literally thousands of hours of footage had been reviewed to locate images of timepieces, and had then been edited to construct an actual clock out of the selected footage. When experiencing a work, there is nothing better for me than to feel tricked and/or confused for a moment when being confronted with its simple logic, before figuring it out. I actually felt excitement, and settled into the couch to take the work in.


Christian Marclay, Still from The Clock, 2010
Single-channel video, 24 hours
Copyright Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

I was, on one hand, completely transfixed, held somewhere between the constant rise of narrative arcs that were inevitably cut at the scene of a clock, and the virtuosic simplicity of how the work was put together. On the other hand, while I was settling in nicely on the couch, I was becoming anxious. The clock was ticking, as it always is, only in this space and in this time, time is the center of attention. I couldn’t let my mind wander and ignore this ever-present fact while sitting with this work. As a cinephile, I was attempting to keep track of the clips of film that would run for a few seconds, only to have the pathways of recognition in my memory repeatedly jarred and broken, suddenly confronted with a new clip, and the relentless image of yet another ticking timepiece. Yes, the time keeps ticking. The Clock keeps reminding me of this and it doesn’t relent. The feeling that I was running late for something kept coming over me, as I never check the time to the degree that it’s made evident in this work, except when I am running behind and rationalizing how late I’ll be if that train ever does make it. I became aware of how I was growing anxious and tried to talk myself out of it. I kept in mind that this piece is 24 hours long, and I didn’t have to be anywhere for a while. I started thinking about this, and began an attempt at editing in my head, using only my memory, and tried to imagine how many clips, and which ones, filled the 24 hours. I began to feel a sense that I was missing out, not being able to see every clip that was selected for the entire duration. I “got” the work; I don’t know why I felt the desire to see all of it… There was a score running through it. I don’t know if it was one composed specifically for this massive montage, or if it was simply the broken score from each clip of film. It seemed as though the soundtrack would start in one clip and run over a few more. A new soundtrack would start again and follow a similar logic. Whatever the case may be, it was having some effect on my emotional state. The clips selected, either in their editing or narrative sequence, tended to be high drama, with characters involved in some intense activity like diffusing a bomb as they watched a clock. But then there were also clips of characters waiting in boredom. The anxiousness that I had been feeling, and still continued to feel, would shift to excitement, and then sadness. The mechanisms of cinematic, emotional manipulation were coming at me from all angles, and the clock kept on ticking. I had a feeling similar to that which I occasionally get when watching a film I really love and don’t want to end - I keep checking the clock to see how much time I have left. Forcing myself to acknowledge, again, that this piece lasts 24 hours, I began to reflect on how time is constructed in cinema, say how the sense of five years can be conveyed over about two hours in a film like John Ford’s 1956 The Searchers. While film or video are subject to the regulations of “real” time, the impression of time conveyed in these media works with other narrative devices to produce an effect of things being sped up and condensed, or of being slowed down and drawn out. In The Clock, the present is dominant and unrelenting in the constantly ticking clocks, but the drama of the selected narratives points to how time is constructed and perceived in the language of cinema, even if these shifting perceptions are only teased and flirted with. I forget exactly which clips I was watching, but the combination of their action, with the ever-present clock, left me with the always-uncomfortable awareness that I will someday die, as will (or as have) all of the actors in these films, who appear to have their age in their roles preserved forever. I got up and left The Clock, feeling some dread of my inevitable doom, but genuinely blown-away by the fact that I was run through such a gamut of emotions in a relatively short period of time.


Christian Marclay, Still from The Clock, 2010
Single-channel video, 24 hours
Copyright Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

I’m normally not impressed with the amount of labor put into a piece of work. At least, I don’t hold having put in a lot of time and labor as a prerequisite for a work's success. I was, however, impressed with the amount of time and patience Marclay and his team of dedicated assistants* put in to find all of the clips needed to construct the entire 24 hours of The Clock. I found myself really enjoying thinking about it, imagining those thousands of hours of film they had to search through to find what they were looking for. It's satisfying, somehow, to imagine the work everyone did, to consider which films are being cut with others and how the authority of each narrative is usurped for the inevitability of time and its representation. The line of thought is rewarding because the media itself is time-based, as is the content of the work. As I continued to think about the The Clock, problems of the logic within its elements started to emerge. For example, Big Ben in London reads, let’s say, 2:40, while a clock back in New York reads the same. In the real world when it’s 2:40 in New York, it is not in London. This “problem” doesn’t really bother me, as I could suspend disbelief (as I think we all do) any time I watched a film showing the time in London to be 2:40, even if I happened to be watching that film here in New York at precisely 2:40 local time. The rules of cinema are more relaxed than those of the real world; the devices used to convey time are illusionary. The non-illusionary appearance of timepieces in this cinematic work opens new windows from which to consider how these illusions are constructed.


Christian Marclay, Still from The Clock, 2010
Single-channel video, 24 hours
Copyright Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

I went back on the following Wednesday morning at around 10:10. I settled in, leaning against the back wall, as the gallery was already packed this early. Kyle McLachlan enters a scene taken from Twin Peaks. The scene cuts to a clock, which reads 10:10. Cuts back to McLachlan. He walks and sits down in front of a desk with David Lynch sitting behind it, he says to him, emphatically “Gordon – it’s 10:10 AM!” The scene is cut to one with Johnny Depp. Then one with Charles Bronson, Sandra Bullock, and then one with Steve Martin giving some monologue in what looks like a fast-food restaurant, about a precious watch he has, which now reads a few minutes past 10:10. He smashes the watch and dunks it into a cup of water. It dawns on me, that unlike the clips I saw on Thursday, which were selected from around 2:00 to 2:40 p.m., and therefore whose action could have occurred at anytime of day, these clips were specific to the experience of morning, starting a day fresh and early, waking up. Judd Nelson, starting to get antsy early, tearing pages out of a book on his detention day in the Breakfast Club around 10:22. A beautiful, topless woman takes a long drawn out bong hit with heaving breasts covered in sweat, she lets it out, leans forward, and hands it to what looks like her lover. He takes it as she lays back, with her eyes closed, breathing deeply, and he says “Oh shit, what time is it?” This is somewhat of a breathtaking wake-and-bake scene. Johnny Depp is yawning, getting ready to write. It’s 10:26. A digital alarm clock goes off at 10:28 with Huey Lewis singing “Back In Time” as Michael J. Fox wakes up and says “what a nightmare”. A few of these clips seem like they could be anytime, but most seem to convey rituals and routines of the morning, or disruptions from those routines. The time of day is told by the clock on the screen, but the collection of clips also reveal characteristics of this time of day, that are somehow different from the mid-late afternoon.

On one hand, The Clock is a hypnotic work. It is difficult to stop watching. And on the other, it is anxious. Sitting there in the dark, with the image of the clocks, watches, and on occasion, characters that say what time it is, I want to see what comes next. The drama and tension of each scene, out of context from its full narrative, tends to peak and solicit my interest and curiosity... and then cut. I want the scenes to play out, and feel some disappointment when are interrupted, but I can’t stop wondering what clips will come next. The questions I have about the work while I am with it, experiencing it, don’t ever resolve and they follow me when I leave. The Clock has been for me, the source of many meditations on the character of time, as well as the topic of some really charged and interesting conversations with my peers and colleagues. The work has been sticking with me; causing me to think, and think out loud with friends, unlike any work I can remember doing for sometime. The chorus of praise I have been hearing about this work has not become old yet, because it is substantive and not shallow. It seems to have elevated the conversation, for the moment. People I talk to about it do not simply say they like it, they say what they think about it and describe its affect on them. I am looking forward to going back late on its final 24-hour Friday screening and spending maybe a couple hours with it. I can’t remember the last time an artwork was this engaging.


Christian Marclay, Still from The Clock, 2010
Single-channel video, 24 hours
Copyright Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.


*The credits for The Clock are on display, adhered to the wall entering the gallery. The work was directed and edited by Christian Marclay. The computer and editing assistant was Paul Anton Smith, with sound design by Quentin Chiappetta and Media Noise, Brooklyn. Research Assistants included: Ed Atkins, Philip Beeken, Andrew Gibbs, Joanne Kernan, Ryan MacLean, Konstantinos Menelaou, Andrew Sims and Paul Anton Smith. Clare Morris was the project coordinator, and Scott Martin, the technical manager. Mick Grierson was the technical consultant and software designer. The Clock was produced by White Cube, London, and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Special thanks has been made to: Jay Jopling and Paula Cooper, Craig Burnett, Lina Dzuverovic and IreneRevell at Electra, Brown Bartholomew, Vicki Bennett, Andrew Gwilliams, Kieran Jessel, Fanny Cardot, Tree and Adam Carr andLydia Yee.

Chris Kasper

 

Chris Kasper is an artist/teacher/writer living in New York City. 
He holds an MFA from the School of Art at Yale University and completed the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2006.

ckasper13@yahoo.com

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