Time Marches On, until it Stands Still

June 7, 2011

After its much ballyhooed 24-hour screening in the Bing Theater last month, Christian Marclay’s epic film collage The Clock was moved to a smaller gallery space in the nearby Art of the Americas Building, where it is on view every day during regular museum hours through the end of July. I’d watched many hours’ worth of the piece during the inaugural screening at LACMA, but after hearing the news that Marclay has been awarded the prestigious Gold Lion at this year’s Venice Biennale for The Clock, I decided to pass the time once more, in its new setting.

It’s easy to get caught up in The Clock. It hurtles ever-forward, constantly telling you how many minutes you’ve spent sitting in the dark as the day goes by outside. The Clock is often ominous, usually anxious, sometimes cavalier, and occasionally breezy. Depending on when you watch—not only what time of day, but also your proximity to the top of the hour—the ride can become quite exhilarating. Approaching the hour, the characters on screen are nervously approaching some moment of truth—a deadline, a standoff, a showdown—while just past the hour new characters are scrambling to get to something they’re in danger of missing—a bus, a test, an interview.

Christian Marclay, The Clock (still), 2010, purchased with funds provided by Steve Tisch through the 2011 Collectors Committee

The more you watch, the more The Clock seems to be fixated not so much on the time but on your time. Seconds are passing, minutes, hours. Soon the day will be done—soon your day will be done! Time is ticking. You can’t stop time from ticking. Even if you walk out of The Clock, there’s still a watch in your pocket, a sun in the sky, the earth revolving. The Clock is thousands of clips moving at a clip. The faster it goes, the more inevitable its conclusion. A character in a scene from The Twilight Zone, which occurs a little after 2 pm, puts it most succinctly: “When my clock stops ticking, I’ll die.”

That’s why it’s such an apt juxtaposition, coincidentally or not, with The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy, on view in the adjacent gallery. The thirty-seven small sculptures on view originally ringed the tomb of John the Fearless, who died in 1419. The figures were placed in a processional around the tomb in a state of eternal sorrow and prayer.

Installation view of The Mourners, photo by Steve Cohn

In other words, no clocks necessary. The installation for The Mourners is intimate, dimly lit, and serene. Standing in the gallery with the sculptures, you can feel the rhythms of your body slow as you look at each of the individual figures carved from alabaster, each with their own personality and body language. Most of the figures’ eyes are downcast, if their heads aren’t altogether concealed by their cloaks. A few look upward, as if they’ve just heard their names called. One, amusingly, holds his nose—stench of death, see. The closer you look at each Mourner, the more powerful the exhibition becomes. It’s in the details of their faces: some are sorrowful, some are solemn; others are pious, regal, resigned—resilient!—bold, or baleful.

Sitting in the mini-theater setting of The Clock is a heady rush of imagery and sound which at times feels, not quite literally, like life is passing before your eyes (Hollywood’s gussied-up version of life, at least). Standing amidst the tomb sculptures of The Mourners, on the other hand, you might find the serenity and peace to contemplate what it all amounts to. From these two darkened galleries, you’re then at liberty to return to the daylight and go on living in the here and now.

Scott Tennent


New Acquisition: Christian Marclay, The Clock

April 19, 2011

This weekend LACMA added eight new works to its collection through its annual Collectors Committee events. All week on Unframed our curators will be highlighting the objects just acquired.

Christian Marclay, still from The Clock, 2010, gift of the 2011 Collectors Committee, © Christian Marclay, photo courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Born in San Rafael, California in 1955, Christian Marclay grew up in Geneva, Switzerland. He received his BFA from Massachusetts College of Art in 1980, and currently resides in London and New York City. Working in sound, sculpture, performance, video, and other time-based media, Marclay began manipulating gramophone records and creating time-based works using loops, skips, and scratches on turntables as musical instruments in the 1970s.

Christian Marclay, still from The Clock, 2010, gift of the 2011 Collectors Committee, © Christian Marclay, photo courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

The Clock, a 24-hour single-channel montage, is constructed out of moments in cinema and television history depicting the passage of time; in other words, scenes in which all manner of clocks and reference to time appear. The Clock weaves together Marclay’s interests in collage and found visual and aural artifacts with his own roots in live performance.

The edited footage of clocks not only provides cues as to the role of time’s passage in the appropriated film narrative, but also serves as a functioning timepiece that marks the exact time in real time for the viewer. When one sees The Clock at 1:17 pm, for example, the action (or inaction) in the clip will be taking place at the same moment. Screened in a cinematic setting, it retains the rhythmic pulsations and tonal shifts typical of Marclay’s sound works but also plays with the viewer’s sense of expectation, casting time as a multifaceted protagonist and creating a conflation of tensions à propos the layered tempos of contemporary life.

Christian Marclay, still from The Clock, 2010, gift of the 2011 Collectors Committee, © Christian Marclay, photo courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Marclay follows a long trajectory of artists interested in the history of cinema and the ways in which its footage or grammar can be appropriated and recontextualized. Since the dawning of the medium, experimental and documentary filmmakers have used found or appropriated footage, such as in the collage techniques of Dadaism, Surrealism, and Constructivism, among other historical avant-gardes. An important, albeit much shorter, precedent to Marclay’s The Clock is Bruce Conner’s A Movie (1958), an experimental film which edits together clips from disparate sources, from stag films to sports footage to mainstream melodramas, to create a meta-film that throws out all rules of linearity and narrative progression. Similarly, The Clock causes the viewer to ruminate on what David Velasco, writing for Artforum in February 2011, calls a film or television show’s “temporal grammar” in the way that Marclay “string(s) together this panoply of irrational times according to a rational tempo, [making] salient the idiosyncrasies of movie time.” Additionally, The Clock pays homage to Andy Warhol’s eight-hour film, Empire (1964), which tracks the flickering floodlights of the Empire State Building from sunset to near total darkness around 2 am. It also recalls Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s signature film The Way Things Go (1987), in which a Rube Goldberg device performs a very simple task via a series of chain reactions in 29 minutes.

Christian Marclay, still from The Clock, 2010, gift of the 2011 Collectors Committee, © Christian Marclay, photo courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

The Clock’s presence at LACMA speaks directly to the institution’s interest in the intersections of contemporary art and cinema. It will be screened in LACMA’s Bing Theater in early May for its West Coast premiere, and in the galleries thereafter—all before its celebratory screening at the Venice Biennale this June.

Christine Y. Kim, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art


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