Tick-Tock: Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”

LAST NIGHT, very late, a friend and I ventured to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, on a whim, to see what essentially was a 24-hour film montage as art piece — “The Clock,” in which time is, literally, the essence. Artist and composer Christian Marclay edited together hours and hours of film — foreign, domestic, blockbuster, art house — moments that reference time and builds a narrative constructed by bits and pieces of incidental dialogue that, more often than not, reference a specific time or anticipates what might happen when that “time” arrives.

The piece functions as a visual clock — where each hour, minute and second is accounted for. In other words, we, the audience sitting here in Pacific Daylight Time, is synced with the film’s internal clock — to the second. And so, when, say, an off-the-round number time was referenced by one of the actors, audience members checked their cellphones (and some old-schoolers like me, my watch). We were right on the nose. What a feat in L.A. to have to “go off” right on time. I was struck by the en-masse slumber party feel in the Leo S. Bing Theater on the museum’s grounds — excited but reverent. It reminded me of the old movie marathons the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Filmex) used to throw annually more than three decades ago.

Last night, there were people who clearly were just filing in for a moment to get a sense of the concept and move on as if it were an installation under plexiglass, still others who wanted to have more complete sense of what the piece’s trajectory — and still others who were in it for the duration — with their blankets and had snuck-in snacks. We stayed about three hours and shoved off into the rain. But long enough to watch the big clocks edge slowly to midnight — and see the beautiful watch and clock faces, the filagree hands, the gorgeous clock towers — registering time, counting down our days. That run up to midnight was greeted with elated applause.

The feeling you are left with is how much time it is we think about time — how it functions in our lives as both an abstract and a tangible dividing line between present and future, success and failure, life and death, chance and destiny.

Here is a little backstory about the project and Marclay here from the BBC.

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