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Motley x Culture: Christian Marclay's ‘The Clock’

by Cecily Motley on

One lunch break in 2010, I wandered absentmindedly into the White Cube Gallery in Mason’s Yard. Passing a hostile gallery assistant, I dropped onto a sofa in the main gallery to watch whatever was shown me.

I emerged an hour later blinking, mind boggled and late. I was so compelled by what I had seen, I prised an A4 info print-out from the now snarling assistant to scribble down my pretentious twenty-something meditations. They faded into the mire of “things I will look up and remind myself of”. I didn’t. Inevitably - and thankfully -  I lost these musings, along with the name of the artist. 

Two weeks ago, we took an office trip to the Annie Albers retrospective at Tate Modern. There, I ran into an old colleague, who said she had to dash because she had spent too much time watching “The Clock”. And it was then I knew.

What I had inadvertently stumbled into eight years ago was “The Clock”, an art installation by video artist Christian Marclay; an idea beautifully simple and staggeringly complex at the same time. It is a continuous 24 hour show reel, made up of thousands of spliced-together clips from the beginning of film to the modern day, featuring glimpses of clocks, watches, sundials, and snatches of conversations about time – all, when shown on screen, corresponding to the real time.

The visual impact of this is breathtaking. The project fizzes with impossibility; the editing job alone is a Promethean task. It is an archive of the entirety of Hollywood. Familiar is mixed in with the niche; famous actors appear in youthful formats, only to age over several scenes. The research task of curating moments to correspond to every hour was evidently a mammoth one. Marclay himself says certain times were more challenging to grasp footage of than others; the time between 4 and 5 am where he confesses not much happens is ‘dream time’ – and one that punters don’t often get to see.

Marclay plays on themes of contradiction and unity. Dissonant, Pinter-esque associations are made coherent by The Clock’s all-encompassing subject. This piece of art is not just basic splicing of clock-closeups in films (although that in itself would have been remarkable): characters speak to each other across time, languages and film sets. Moments of love, life, loss and everything in between bend and sway, punctuated again and again, like our lives, by the passing of time.

The work is so absorbing it is impossible not to feel suspended from time. It was a genuine surprise when we were ushered out of the Tate screening as the gallery closed for the night. The beauty of The Clock is that you are not meant to be able to view it in one sitting. One day, I will try.  



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