Thursday, July 12, 2012

What Time Is It?

At approximately 12:12 p.m. in Christian Marclay's "The Clock" -- showing at the David Rubinstein Atrium as part of Lincoln Center Festival 2012 -- comes a clip from the 1948 film Hamlet, in which the title character holds the skull of the court jester, Yorick, and says, "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! [quote snipped from Wikipedia]"

Before setting foot within the black box space erected within the privately owned public space spanning between Broadway and Columbus, I had a number of preconceptions about Marclay's 24-hour visual artwork. One was a parallel with the video in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (which is supposedly named for the Hamlet quote), the one that people can't stop watching because the film taps into a part of the brain that provides it pleasure, an unending pleasure that eventually leads to death. I was hardly expecting to lose myself to that extent, but descriptions from friends who saw the piece in Venice (where it won the Golden Lion Prize last year) and raves from critics pointed toward a hypnotic state reached by viewers. I stepped into the space at 10:40 a.m. this morning and did not leave until 2:40 p.m. I was not hypnotized, but I did thoroughly enjoy the piece.

[Don't call it a cinema: the black box in the Rubinstein Atrium | Photo by John Hill]

For those not familiar with "The Clock", it is a 24-hour video that is composed of clips from thousands of films, most illustrating the time -- through a clock, a watch, a piece of dialogue -- that coincides with the actual time where it is being shown. Therefore it acts as a timepiece. But it is not just a clock, it is much more complex and artistically intentional than just a cutting together of short clips that tell us the time. It is an overlapping collage of video and sound that washes over the viewer likes waves on the sea. Yet these are waves of time that are orchestrated to the minutes and hours of the day as embodied in the films and television shows (there are a few in there) that by nature take liberties with time yet are reflections of our daily lives. The experience of watching it is somewhere between that of a film, where action and plot require us to keep a tally of what is going on, and something like Andy Warhol's Empire, where the movement of time is natural and without any apparent action. "The Clock" does not require a memory of events, and it is much more frenetic than Warhol's anti-film, so the viewer is free to paradoxically lose one's sense of time by constantly being reminded what time it is. It's magical.

Here is a short clip at 12:04 to 12:07 p.m. to give a sense of how Marclay expresses time and how he layers video and audio:

Before spending three years making "The Clock" Marclay had created the 7-1/2-minute "Telephones" (1995) that collages Hollywood clips with, yes, telephones. Like smaller sections of "The Clock", this earlier piece has an apparent flow that is obviously intentional:

So how did Marclay end up making a 24-hour-long video artwork? (He's clear in saying it's not a film, since it does not have a beginning or an end like a film: "It begins when you walk in and ends when you walk out.") Stepping back in time further, this clip from the television show Night Music shows the "turntablist" at work creating soundscapes from records:

So Marclay's love for and experience with sound collages is really at the root of his art, and "The Clock" is as much about sound as the moving images. Hence it's being shown at Lincoln Center in an enclosed space that lets the sounds be clearly heard. This staging of the film unfortunately limits the occupancy to 96 people at any one time. Combined with the free admission, this means there will most likely be lines for its 16-day run, especially if people, like me, watch it for four hours at a time. "The Clock" runs from July 13 until August 1, showing 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week (minus Mondays) and for 24 hours on weekends. Highly recommended and worth any wait.