By Katie Smither
Christian Marclay’s most recent work of appropriated, remixed material won Germany the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion at the beginning of this month. Though the work has been making waves in the contemporary art circles for nearly a year now, this recent attention served to cement The Clock in a place of serious consideration, some going so far as to call it the work of our time (news articles and mega-curator’s Facebook pages alike).
The work, a video installation or “film”, is a 24-hour loop composed of selected film scenes containing clocks and representations of passing, measured time. A wide array of film is represented within these edited sequences, which are then arranged according to the time depicted in the narrative of the clip so the hour and minute told in one piece of film picks up in the next. The Clock is played in unison with the local time of the city screening the piece, and as the title describes, functions like a clock as it runs continuously. From what I’ve heard, no venue has screwed up a viewing yet and The Clock will remain accurate to what ticks on your iPhone.
It is, without a doubt, a marvel of craft and film theory and spectacle. The piece has no beginning or end. It is equal parts essay, love poem, and critique of our relationship to film, reality, and time. Word on the street suggests it’s even genuinely enjoyable to watch, waiting for familiar scenes to unfold and break into new ones.
I’m most curious about how The Clock could or could not be considered filmic or narrative. It certainly deals with it. Embracing created narrative, breaking that narrative, relying on the memory of a storyline, creating another through the pieces, all while avoiding resolution, as the specifics of each clip don’t inform the video as a whole. Narrative seems to be at the mercy of the video’s structure. As it turns, The Clock attempts to objectively measure time, rubbing shoulders with a clinical process seemingly non-narrative and more procedure. However, through appropriation, the clinical gains content, each individual viewer bringing unique association and personal history to the series of scenes shown. These histories speak to one another through juxtaposition and Marclay’s editing decisions, but remain underneath the system of passing time dictating their duration, placement, and purpose. The reason and meaning of The Clock is in its operation and function. Perhaps more than any other film or video before it, Marclay’s piece relies on the line between real and fictive time to drive it forward, hinging on the viewer, the object viewed, and the space of watching and waiting. The video’s significance is not within its content, but context and consumption. Perhaps more than any film or video before it, The Clock begins to materialize problems of real or spatial time in film. The viewer sitting in the gallery at 4 AM watching 4 AM is the subject and conflict of the video, the time zone and location of the screen on earth are the setting. Watching The Clock in passing time and particular space is what The Clock is about. Where is the story located? Can the function or consumption of an artwork be its narrative? Is this a film/video or conceptual gesture?