Mar 112012
"The Clock" at the National Gallery of Canada

"The Clock" at the National Gallery of Canada

Have been sitting and watching Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”. Watching the clock, watching time trying to grasp duration. I was imagining how interesting it would be to have the piece on my wrist and tell the time by being familiar with every moment of footage seen and heard. To know it is 10:54 when Marlon Brando rolls over in a bed complaining about early risers would be interesting to say the least.

But that is beside the point. I am at first struck by the tightness and logic of the editing; not just a question of finding all the right times on the clock faces but also to tie the sequences together to offer a [meta]narrative going beyond the stories in the individual films themselves. The editing makes it logical and even exciting, you just want to keep watching and watching because you truly feel a story is unfolding.

The horrible part of this piece is that it will surely create an elite cadre of viewers (“Footageheads” to quote William Gibson[1]). These viewers will be the ones who sat through the entire 24 hour cycle, they will lay claim to being the ones who paid the price and sat with greatness and possibly noticed flaws and mistakes further enhancing the chic factor. The nouveau-geek-hero, in the past these were the ones who knew where all the numbers were hidden in Peter Greenaway’s “Drowning by Numbers” or who had sparring matches with comrades quoting Monty Python from memory. But this kind of work indeed does inspire such followings, but as the word implies, it is about following, not interacting or acknowledging affect.

I sat from 10:24 to 12:34.

Hours, quarter hours… each has a particular character. As in the non-mediated universe [sic].

I was expecting to see many bits of film more or less randomly assembled [in terms of visual parameters] in order to place the be able to accomplish the technical task at hand; of course it would make for a pretty weak piece in terms of affect, so I was also expecting some kind of strategic stitching. But what I saw was congruent, flowing from scene to scene as if they were all part of one story and they are, it is the story of this human need to measure, compare and situate.

Most of what I have been reading has placed a great deal of importance on the “homage” to film idea; but that is ignoring the fishing line in order to appreciate the hook.  Film is invariably wrapped with duration at 29 (or more, or less) frames per second, and indeed this work is not a random mishmash of filmic sequences. But it is not either fixated on great, campy, popular, esoteric cinema.

What I was responding to mostly was what the characters on the screen were doing as a clock or watch or … was part of the composition. It was incredibly human; one seldom looks at one’s watch just to admire the elegant hands or fluid numbers flick by for the fun of it. It is usually because an appointment needs to be kept, or a schedule adhered to and I noticed something else, something I never really considered before but that is quite common.

We look at the time because we are bored.

And I wonder how this is comforting or rather what part of our desire is being addressed with this activity.
“I am bored so looking at the time go by is a reassurance that I will not be bored forever.”
“I am bored so looking at time go by occupies my thoughts.”
“I am bored so looking at time reminds me of how short life really is.”

And… so on.

Still images from "The Clock"

Still images from "The Clock"

Back to time, back in time.

Time is independent from beings, things and measurement. It does not move in any specific direction, all time exists at the same time. It is beyond our instruments since it is beyond our experience. This piece reminded me of this, not really remind since this is something that has been bouncing around my synapses since reading “Évolution Créatrice” by Henri Bergson. It is a concept that has captivated me and is beginning to have impact in my practice.

We do not deal with time, we deal with duration; we are unable to conceptualize time outside of the measurement systems we have developed to describe it as a commodity, something to trade, barter and waste. Ultimately, I think this is what “The Clock” wants to address. It does it through film history and recognizable patterning.

By the way, “The Clock” is set to local time wherever it is showing.


This looks like it could be an officially sanctioned recording of the piece on YouTube.



[1] Gibson, William, Pattern Recognition, 2003, Putnam, New York

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