Time Waits For No One: Christian Marclay’s The Clock at SFMOMA

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved

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Harold Lloyd, still from Safety Last.

Do not wait to see Christian Marclay’s The Clock at SFMOMA. Its limited screening ends June 2, when the Museum will close its main building for a 3-year expansion project to accommodate the Fisher collection.

Marclay’s 24-hour digitized film montage, fabricated from film and TV clips, unfolds in an endless loop in real time. Each moment in the piece is marked is marked by a visual timepiece or announcement of time, simultaneous to actual time.  The gargantuan effort required to assemble at least 1440 shots culled from incalculable hours of footage is mind-boggling.  (The OED effort springs to mind.)  Marclay did not stop at these clips.  In a feat of virtuosic visual and sound editing, the artist wove the marked moments together with other, non time-specific, footage. The resulting 86,400 seconds is an unforgettable experience.

Like all truly impressive works of art, The Clock is both instantly accessible and unfathomably deep.  The film clips are a seductive conceit; for the first while a viewer engages in an entertaining game of recognizing actors/tresses and identifying movie scenes.  Over longer chunks of time, the rhythmic ebb and flow of the piece becomes apparent.  Countless themes emerge, recede, re-emerge. Viewers see glimpses of a bigger message, while individual characters fall into the background.

The Clock is strewn with clichés about time.  In my 2+ hour segment a lot seemed to happen in the nick of time. Numerous scenes related to various interpretations of hard time. Time never stands still, and Clock people sure were frustrated by that.  On a lighter note, I chuckled at the innuendo embedded in a brief scene depicting a character on a plane consulting his watch. Time flies!  Time is all-pervasive and language reflects our (at best) contradictory relationship to time. But this is only an ancillary message of The Clock.

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Christian Marclay discusses The Clock, 4/3/13

In its 24 hours The Clock captures a microcosm of the human experience, or at least a particular distillation of that microcosm as recorded by filmmakers. While I look forward to chancing upon a moment of birth in the work (no spoilers please!), most other activities that constitute a human life—sleeping, eating, working, plotting & scheming, driving & riding, walking & running, sex, death—seem to have been recorded here over and over in the variation that different clips provide.  And yet those 1440+ shots of punctuated time underscore an important message of The Clock—i.e. life is repetitive.

Emotions are The Clock’s underpinning.  Bliss. Curiosity. Mirth. Loyalty. Anger. Love. Anticipation. Fear. If emotions are the core of the work, then existential anxiety is its molten center. This is where the film’s monumental power lies. You won’t have to watch for too long before you feel gripped on a visceral level by the anxiety that comes with marking the inexorable passage of time. After a longer while, you may even start to notice moments of anxiety. Your own life is passing. Tick, tick, tick.  No, please, make it stop!  Paradoxically, you won’t be asking yourself if there is more exciting way to spend that moment.

In this age of point and click consumption of art, the most important thing about The Clock may well be its “stickiness.” It’s a fair guess that most people will spend exponentially more time in the presence of  The Clock than they ever have or might with another work of contemporary art.  Marclay has discouraged viewing all 24-hours in one sitting, although I’m sure that hasn’t stopped people from trying.  Ronald Reagan’s character (from The Killers) sums it up best at 1:20pm— “If you want in, you’re in all the way.”

Wider Connections

Daniel Zalewski’s Marclay profile in The New Yorker
Alain de Botton speaks with Christian Marclay
YouTube excerpt—Marclay’s Chalkboard
Max Weintraub on The Clock
Zadie Smith (NY Review of Books): “Killing Orson Welles at Midnight”

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One Response to “Time Waits For No One: Christian Marclay’s The Clock at SFMOMA”

  1. fredascott Says:

    Liz–Really brilliant writing & notes. I’ve been 5 times since Weds. & love this piece.

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