New York is a twenty-four hour city.
Which can make it seem like time doesn't matter. Like we have no restrictions. We can order food, drinks, and sex to come to our door at any time of day. We can leave our apartments at any hour of the night and we won't be alone on the streets.
Time doesn't rule us. We live in the city that never sleeps.
Christian Marclay's brilliant installation "The Clock" has come back to New York to play with this idea, this notion, that we—as modern humans—are outside the rules of time and nature and physics.
A year and a half after its original installation at the Paula Cooper Gallery, Marclay's "Clock" can be seen for free in the David Rubinstein Atrium at Lincoln Center before it moves to its permanent home at MOMA. Marclay is a true polymath, having worked in many different art forms including sculpture, video collages, and musical composition. "The Clock" was hailed by some art critics as "the best picture of the year" when it debuted in New York in January of 2011, and it rises to such hyperbole as a work of art that is at times suspenseful, at times hilarious, and never anything less than relentlessly captivating. As the audience, sitting in a darkened room and feeling the minutes and hours sliding away, we are treated to a singular experience. Marclay has edited together clips of film so that—for a continuous twenty-four hours—every moment on the screen corresponds to the actual time. Each film clip references time either through dialogue or through a shot of a clock or watch or sundial. These were the artistic conditions that Marclay followed scrupulously, but within these conditions he has created something that transcends the physical limits of time and stretches into the metaphysical realm of the human experience.
Marclay's "The Clock" tells us that, no, we are not beyond conditions.
We are set in a time and in a place.
Well, except that, actually, we are not in a place. The place doesn't matter, the person doesn't matter, those things are incidental.
We are only definitely in a time.
And that time is now.
And then it's now again and again.
It is always now.
But Marclay's work shows that now is ever-changing. Now is Joan Crawford hidden ominously in the shadows, those eyes and those cheekbones standing out from the dark depths. Now is Johnny Depp in "Nightmare on Elm Street," lying in bed listening to music and watching tv and having no idea that his death is coming.
Except it never comes. Not this time.
Instead, Orson Welles is impaled and falls off a clock tower as the hands near midnight. And the clocks keep spinning and we fall into other, alternate universes where more and more people pop up, some of them familiar, some of them strangers, all of them coming and going in what seems like a pattern, a pattern that it is impossible to make sense of unless you accept that the only rule that really applies is that the clock keeps moving forward.
One of the hardest things to come to terms with, when thinking about the world, when trying to shrink it down to human scale, is how incongruous all of the things are that are happening second by second, minute by minute. One person could be masturbating up against the grout in their shower, while another, somewhere across the street or across the city or across the world, is dying in a bed, choking on the fluid in their corrupted lungs. We are all living in alternate universes.
"The Clock" demonstrates that more clearly than any other art I've ever witnessed. It's like a cinematic fractal, folding in and out of itself, seemingly bending time while keeping rigidly to its constructs. Scenes from the same movies pop up, actors at different points in their careers, different points in their lives, sounds and music bleeding into and out of scenes.
The inherent relentlessness of a piece of art that is almost impossible to take in all at once, that exhausts its audience physically and emotionally, is only fully apparent when you leave the darkened room and step back onto the city streets. You've left "The Clock," but time, and all of its endless possibilities, keeps flying forward.
July 13—August 1
Tuesdays—Thursdays, 8:00 am—10:00 pm
Runs continuously from Fridays at 8:00 am through Sundays at 10:00 pm
David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center