This year, the winner of the Golden Lion for best artist at the 54th Venice Bienniale was Christian Marclay for his film The Clock, 2010. The piece debuted in New York this past February at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea and had previously been on view in London last fall. Spanning 24-hours and composed of multitudes of appropriated clips, The Clock is played in real time and the hours, minutes and seconds in each scene are a direct reflection of the moment being portrayed. The effect is both eerie and completely mesmerizing. Featuring 20th Century clips as well as those from many years ago such as Modern Times, the 1936 Charlie Chaplin film shown above, the piece loosely weaves a narrative web that is a modern day film noir and leaves the viewer curiously guessing as to what will come next.
As can be expected clocks and watches, analogue and digital play a dominant role in the piece. Specifically composed like clockwork (ahem) each juxtaposed clip has been seamlessly cut and edited to run in real time. Unlike reality TV or streaming footage online, The Clock is reliant on whomever, I assume, presses play on the day of each particular screening. In New York the film commenced at midnight but in Venice it screened during the opening from 6:00 pm onward. The piece runs solidly through a 24-hour cycle and not only comments on the measuring of time itself, but also has a way of transporting the fiction of Hollywood into a personal and in this case, collective experience that is anything but fictional.
Through the power of editing Marclay has made a document of sorts that references cinematic culture from the last 100 years while also remaining relevant to a particularly specific moment felt in the present. The movies used are not genre specific or thematically linked but it’s as if time itself holds the starring role. I comfortably lounged in the white couches that are lined up in a half-moon format at the Arsenale, for an hour if not more from 2:30 pm until 3:45 pm. The experience was both tranquilizing and inspiring as I found myself immersed in the content but also occasionally checking my iPhone to be sure that the times were actually synced.
In a moment of both speed and stillness, The Clock utilizes digital technology, high tech editing and painstakingly compiles elements of popular culture in a sophisticated contemporary mash-up. Love it or hate it, the film is an important manifestation of the entertainment industry used solely as a medium , devoid of intended original content. A viewer will find him/herself inserted into the film, in part by visual familiarity of the actors from known roles, but also through time and the minutes that tick by simultaneously merging the present with visual components extracted from the past.
Christian Marclay, The Clock is currently on view as part of Illuminazioni at the Arsenale, of the Venice Biennale until November 27th, 2011. It will also be screened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston September 17th as part of a commemorative party for the MFA’s new wing and later open to the public but only on view during museum hours.