Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” | 24hr art installation/film/clock… at the 54th Venice Biennale

In June this year, I had the great fortune to take a trip from Scotland over to the 54th Venice Biennale for a three-day art extravaganza…I say this not so much for the extravagant art (that’s another debate entirely…) but for limited time I had there to fit in so many art experiences and come away with something tangible…

But I think I did.

Out of more than 100 exhibitions, installations and artworks across the city of Venice…there were two strong works that have stayed with me since. One was the New Zealand pavillion artwork: Michael Parekowhai’s On first Looking into Chapman’s Homer at the Palazzo Loredan dell’Ambasciatore. And the other was Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” . I have written a review of the Michael Parekowhai work for this journal which will be published in December 2011…so you’ll just have to wait a wee bit longer for that one…

In the meantime, I just had to share my thinking about The Clock

Originally created in 2010 and exhibited at the White Cube Gallery in London, this was the first time I had come across this work by American artist Christian Marclay.

I’m seduced by cinema, by video art, by the screen and the frame…so I had no problems settling into a comfortable sofa and giving myself to the evolving narrative of this work. (It’s true, I was also seduced by the sofa after walking around Venice for three days…)

The film runs for 24hours and then continues in an endless loop. It marks real time, as a clock would do, except each ‘moment’ is portrayed by an appropriated film clip, edited seamlessly together to create, literally, a clock. The spliced films are varied, from recognisable, Hollywood, contemporary and classic cinema to foreign and independent, obscure movies, woven together. They are linked both by the moments that mark time: looking at watches, clocks, telling the time; as well as beautifully edited conversations between dialogues and scenes. It works incredibly well. It is both familiar and uncanny.

When I first started watching the film there was an instant tension: on one hand i was euphoric, drinking in all the information, working out what i was seeing, glancing at my own watch to understand what was happening…and then I started to worry that I might not enjoy this switching from film to film…that it might be too disruptive to only watch parts of movies, and have the dialogue and narrative disrupted so much. But the tension never came to anything. In fact, in this technological age, we are more than ever, used to, and expected to, switch our attention between programmes, thoughts and ‘moments’ than ever before. Indeed, in a large art platform such as the Venice Biennale, we get fragmented experiences at best, of each artwork.

I watched The Clock for over an hour on the first sitting, and it felt like ten minutes. And then I came back for more. I could have sat for 24hrs (with appropriate drinks and snacks…).

When we watch a narrative film we understand the mechanism that time, the viewing, talking or taking notice of it: it allows time to be condensed into one and a half, to two hours; for days weeks, months or years to have passed by in a blink of an eye. This film turns that concept directly on its head: each time you ‘notice’ time, you are acutely aware of how slow it appears to your understanding of cinema. You check your watch – it really is real-time!

The other tension in the film is created from which moments the artist has edited together – as they evolve around ‘time’, they naturally hold their own kind of excitement as some action is what the time is marking; someone is arriving/leaving, there’s a meeting, a countdown! This serves as a climactical experience throughout the film and keeps you on the edge of your seat…yet it is never fulfilled, each moment is surpassed by the next, and a new set of narratives with the next scenes ensue. This is a wonderfully elated state to be suspended in, and Marclay’s work appears to do it for 24hrs… (I really have to test that sometime…)

With that said, as the gallery got close to the end of its day (6pm) I found myself starting to panic…hang on, what about all the stuff that happens between 6pm and 10am? Who gets to see that? No one does…the clock will tick alone, marking time regardless (at least not unless you were at any of the special opening screenings, where you could experience the work throughout the 24hr duration…). I didn’t think it would matter to me, as I understood the film, the concept, had enjoyed many parts of it. I didn’t think that I needed more than the transient, (albeit several) hours that I did have to appreciate this work.

But this 24hr film, this clock, the amazing piece of art has got under my skin. I want to see more, I want to see the wee, quiet moments in the am. In short, I would have this as a clock above my mantelpiece.

“…cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing…”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography [trans. Richard Howard] Hill and Wang (1980)

For those of you who are very keen, here is a five minute recording of my initial reaction to the film, recorded in Venice just after my first sitting. Enjoy!

Christian Marclay\’s The Clock – A review by Rachel Gillies


3 thoughts on “Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” | 24hr art installation/film/clock… at the 54th Venice Biennale

  1. Hi Rachel,

    I saw part of this video piece at the Hayward Gallery during the British Art Show 7. I wished I could have watched more of it too because it was very captivating. As viewers, our expectations are kept high and in some ways disappointed as each scene is cut off prematurely, but only until the next scene takes our mind off our disappointment.

    As you imply towards the end of your post, I agree Marclay intended to get the general idea across and this worked very well despite not having seen the whole video.

    Thanks for an interesting post!


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