Not enough hours in the day ? It took Christian Marclay two years to put together his incredible piece, ‘The Clock’, and it will take you exactly 24 hours to watch it from start to finish. The work is an ‘interactive clock’, a video made up of thousands of clips from movies – scenes with a reference to the time such as a clock in the background, a person looking at their watch or saying the time, maybe guessing what time it is from the position of the sun. Sounds tedious ? Here’s the twist : Marclay has requested that ‘The Clock’ be synched to the time of the place it is exposed – so that the time in the video is the same as that on your watch.
Shown in a dark room where people can sit on black sofas to watch the work, it is the familiar experience of going to the cinema. The artwork, however, plays with your expectations, and when you understand the concept, you begin finding yourself trying to find the reference to time, smiling when you recognize a scene or an actor. It doesn’t take long for you to realize the life of the characters is synched to your own – the quintessence of cinema, really ; while your stomach is growling, the characters are having lunch, you are yawning while they are sleeping, and you wish you were still in bed when the lazy characters wake up at 11 am.
Of course, the juxtaposition of scenes organized using such an impersonal, clinical criterion as Time creates an absurd story: one minute you might be moved by a highly dramatic moment, which might be followed the next instant by a ridiculous situation that cracks everyone up. Sentences are taken out of their contexts, individual stories become cryptic and obscure. The Clock is illogical. Nonsensical. Gratuitous. And yet fabulously compelling. Decades of the history of cinema flash past your amazed eyes, with their specific aesthetic, sounds and colors. Every genre is represented. B-movie actors finally get the opportunity to play alongside cult movie-stars. And when you’re on the verge of boredom, a scene from your favorite movie comes up.
An art work for the channel-hopping generation*? You are bombarded with images, times, dialogues. After a while, the novelty wears off and the lull of the rhythm gets the best of you – until shorter, quicker scenes announce a new hour** and wake you up.
Yet after you leave, you understand that you have been in a trance for the past 10 minutes, the past 20 minutes, the past two hours. The work, the experience stays with you for a long time. This is not a work of art that you can glance at and forget the next second. The Louvre has calculated that people look at the Mona Lisa for an average of 15 seconds. The Clock, however, forces you to sit down, stay just for one more minute, and maybe another one after that. Of course, the viewer becomes part of the artwork – he is also worried about what time it is, about his own obligations – which he ultimately lets go. The video collage makes him realize the utter futility of our individual stories in the face of Time, which stops for no-one.
And, maybe, after all, it is worth wasting a couple of those precious hours watching this timeless work of art.
* the French ‘génération zapping’
** of course, the shortest clips are those around noon, and times that appear more often in movies – on the hour
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