Very few films are shot in real time. The technique is limiting and rarely have filmmakers succeed with it. The function of cinema has generally been to distort our perception of time, to stretch it, to squeeze it, to chop it up and fragment it as a way to form and frame a compelling narrative. Christian Marclay
, the pioneer turntablist from the 70s, known for his work with collages, has turned this idea completely inside out. Time becomes our protagonist, and the 24-hour day, our plot.
A thoughtful conceptual piece, a venerable masterpiece, and a fully functional timepiece—synchronized to the time zone of the exhibition space—The Clock
(at Paula Cooper Gallery
through February 19) is a critically acclaimed 24-hour video instillation, a monumental accomplishment, brilliant in the simplicity of its premise.
Marclay has spliced together between three and five thousand clips from a wide range of films throughout history in which the face of a clock is shown, the time of day is indicated or the time is referred to in the dialogue. Each minute of the day is accounted for with clips of everything from the banal moments of reflexive speech when a character asks for the hour to deep philosophical discussions of temporality and transience. The work shows fragments of our cultural artifacts, "narrative shards" extracted from their original context and inserted into a new one where they form an incredibly compelling meditation on time, one that's hugely popular with the public.
Most gallery-goers you see leaving the exhibit on a Saturday afternoon seem to be satisfied and smiling. The exhibition space, a sprawling grey-walled screening room with a huge single-channel video projector and three rows of plush couches, is so full that many people sit on the floor around the perimeter. But there's no line running out the door and visitors aren't quite "queuing up for hours" just to get a glimpse, like ArtInfo reported
they were at White Cube
When you do manage to find a seat, you enter a world made from fragments of other people's stories, but you never loose track of your own. For different people in different situations, a specific time of day may have vastly different implications. Other moments, it turns out, have some universal qualities.
Certain times of the day tend to be suspenseful or chaotic, others more cheerful. People grow eager with anticipation just about the time when the school bell should ring. At 4:29pm a group of French children sit desperately trying to tune out the pedantic meanderings of their pedagogue. Suddenly one jumps out of his seat and the teacher scolds him. A second later the bell sounds relief. 5pm brings the evening rush just as 5am brings a wild array of dream sequences. You watch hoards of people across the last century doing just about the same thing you probably do at that same hour.
What's really captivating, however, is that the pacing, mood and feel of each clip—the way the passage of time is conveyed—are often very different. This creates a dizzying abstraction of time, but entrancing as it is, one is still never able to get fully absorbed into it. Starring at a clock, or The Clock
, one is inevitably reminded of the hour, of life, and getting on with it. Which is why most people only stay between one and two hours—oddly enough, about the length of a single feature film.
(images courtesy Christian Marclay, Paula Cooper Gallery, White Cube)