Turning Back Time

, 17 June 2011

For as long as people could hear, music and sound have been an integral part of human expression. It has an ability to communicate something in a way that nothing else could, which is probably why this year’s Venice Biennale had so little of it. That is, it’s hard to pin a didactic panel to a particular tone or frequency, and with critical theory being such an important part of critical discourse, something that can’t be explained in words is going to be largely ignored.

Curious, considering that music, as a medium, outdates that of film and interactivity –both of which featured far more prominently at the Biennale than any other.

still from Marclay's remix (photos by Paula Cooper Gallery)

Christian Marclay gets it though. Moving on from his no wave sound collages that made him a cult figure in music circles, he’s taken a 24-hour reel to real time film montage for The Clock and been awarded the Biennale’s prestigious Gold Lion in the process. In sifting, compiling and editing a day-long montage of film scenes referencing time –each one synchronized with the local time –Marclay reportedly developed calluses on his fingers in the process. Viewers felt compelled to check their watches every time a clock flashed across the screen or a character told the time. Almost like watching contemporary pop music in motion, The Clock is like an extended YouTube video.

Just as you think you’re about to get bored, up comes the punch line to hook you in –except this happens repeatedly for an entire 24-hour cycle, rather than a couple of minutes. As a cascade of clip after clip of visual stimuli one is both transfixed and repulsed by an overwhelming sense of time passing, wasted. Meanwhile, the audience –allowed entry for 50 at a time, after booking –walks away feeling like they might after watching a live gig, as The Clock maintains the rhythm and tonal shifts typical of one of Marclay’s audio-visual collages.

He is noted for pioneering the use of turntables as instruments in live performance in the 1970s, as well as vinyl collages in his Recycled Records work of the 80s. Having experimented with scratching, manipulating, looping vinyl at the same time as hip-hop was moving into live sampling, he not only foresaw the rise of the ‘post-modern DJ-as-spectacle’ but also contemporary cross-platform pastiche and production in his Body Mix series. The Clock is Marclay’s opus. Here he successfully combines all the elements of his time-based works spanning performance, music and visual art into a single concept.

Marclay received the Golden Lion award for the Best Artist earlier this month

In his continued effort at freeing recorded music (and film) “from it’s captivity”, it’s Marclay’s preoccupation with the temporal and ephemeral nature of live performance that makes this latest piece so effective. In reappropriating music that has been recorded and commodified, he undermines and critiques its commercial nature, by using the very material that seeks to preserve and contain it in the first place. The Clock takes those idea to another level by reminding us of the mortality of those actors presented on screen and the indomitability of time.