Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010) has returned to London eight years after it first premiered in the White Cube. For the uninitiated, it’s a twenty four hour video-collage compiled of clips from film and television that depict clocks. The final film used over 12,000 clips, with separate audio and video tracks individually synchronised with time as it passes in the exhibit.
To make sure that the piece remains synchronised, it is kept on throughout the night in whatever gallery is hosting it, so not a second is missed. Marclay’s work defies easy categorisation but it is aesthetically and narratively compelling. At around 5pm, we see a clip from a western film: two men, a dusty town, rousing music. The moment the men are gearing up to shoot each other is interspersed with black and white clips of cheery factory workers clocking out, office workers pouring onto New York streets, and grainy shots of Big Ben chiming. Each of these clips is oddly captivating.
Whilst some clips only last a moment, Marclay sometimes takes climactic scenes wholesale with only the momentary appearance of a clock or watch. In one moving scene, we see a young boy at his father’s funeral; the watch on his wrist the only explicit thematic link. There’s some really interesting metatheory to draw out here. Bear with me Reaction readers! The duality of short-lived, unresolved narrative content and an unrelenting sense that time is still passing allows Marclay to challenge the very nature of ‘art that tells a story’. There’s no single narrative – rather hundreds and hundreds of stories built into an ever-expanding series of ‘moments’.
Marclay’s choice of clips — some very evidently dated black, white and grainy with visibly light-spots; others early colour films; and some modern block-busters with recognisable actors — appears initially to be presented in a straightforward order – old to new. However, over the whole course of the film, as each of the clips is cut and interspersed with each other — a scene from a contemporary thriller is swiftly followed by an early 20th century grocery shop — the history of cinema itself is portrayed as a chaotic and fragmented thing rather than as smart series of progressions from dated, old-fashioned drama to newer, better produced, higher quality film.
Left simultaneously desperate for narrative continuity and disturbed by the disruption of time and progression, viewers of Marclay’s piece emerge confused and raw. On a lighter note, If many art aficionados watch it for all 24 hours, and the Tate really is hosting some all-night openings for this purpose, I think Marclay risks creating a zombie-like, entranced and discombobulated set of followers.
Christian Marclay’s The Clock runs until the 20th January at the Tate Modern