Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”

An audio-visual collage, Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” (2010) consists of thousands of cut and pasted movie clips, all of which feature visual (ie: an image of a ticking clock or watch) and/or aural cues that reference a specific time of day. The piece incorporates film clips from the medium’s 100 year history. These range from high-suspense car chases and bank robberies to scenes of “average Joes” waking up in the morning and navigating their daily routines before work. Some genres, actors and scenes would be recognizable to a broader public, others only to a highly trained eye. The result is a hauntingly accurate 24-hour long film that synchronizes with “real time.” Christine Choi, writing before the premiere of Marclay’s oeuvre at SFMoMA in 2012, reflects on the piece’s thematic and theoretical frameworks:

In [Marclay’s] magnum opus, created in an editing tour de force over three years, thousands of movie storylines seem to have shattered and been intricately pieced together, leading in countless narrative directions. The juxtaposition of numerous cinematic settings and periods both triggers the viewer’s movie memory and constantly references the passage of time. While viewers of The Clock may be drawn into the continually discontinuous narratives, the work serves as an accurate and functional clock in and of itself, conflating cinematic and actual time (
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).

Having seen a segment of “The Clock” myself, I would say that Choi’s analysis is on point. I found myself waiting to see what has been described as Marclay’s “masterpiece” outside of New York’s Lincoln Center on a muggy Summer afternoon in 2012. My languorous wait lasted roughly three hours as impatient patrons fanned themselves with copies of Time Out New York and attempted to bribe equally hot and bored Lincoln Center interns in exchange for line-cutting privileges. Once inside, however, I was greeted by comfortable movie theatre style seating, air conditioning an invitation to stay and watch “The Clock” for however long I pleased. I stayed for an hour and a half, from roughly 1pm to 2:30pm, but those 90 minutes felt like no more than 5 and the wait I had endured felt endless in comparison. It was if I had been hypnotized.

Despite its reliance on films, which are by nature completely plot-driven, “The Clock” has no inherent story, meaning or narrative. There is no beginning, end or climax – only time. Moreover, the work consists of a high level of unresolved suspense. Marclay incorporates scenes from Westerns and gangster films in which devious plots are devised, but their implementations and results are never revealed (or only revealed much much later once the “real time” conception of the plot has become a distant memory).  The result, which is nearly impossible to watch in its entirety (though several venues have entertained 24 hour viewings), is time’s transformation from immaterial (what is time but measured by watches, clocks and calendars) to material. Like Pop art (the piece’s tendency to appropriation seems to situate it within this genre), time is thrown at “The Clock’s” viewers so that they are constantly aware of it – not to mention the products that are used to measure it. In a way “The Clock” is also like a Duchampian ready-made, taking something “low-brow” and readily available, and elevating it to art.

I have attached a 20 minute clip of “The Clock,” which spans between 10:15 and 10:35pm. I highly suggest that all of you be faithful to the piece and watch it in real time in order to see if its mesmerizing and addictive qualities ring true for you.

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