Christian Marclay at Paula Cooper Gallery

Christian Marclay’s video installation, The Clock at Paula Cooper (through Feb 21) is likely the ne plus ultra of appropriaton art.

With appropriated imagery appearing in the work of so many contemporary artists, the prospect of seeing more popular imagery or ordinary objects brought to a gallery with the notion that the material is ‘recontextualized’ by the artist is not so promising. Equally, the prospect of viewing the Clock, 24 hours in duration, suggests at the very least hours of tedium.  It is difficult to think of another artist’s work that demanded this much time to see the complete work. The idea of a 24 hour long art work might inspire questions of why?

However, Marclay’s concept is brilliant and dispels any skepticism; this instantly immersive video contemplates the passage of a day’s time.  Using appropriated scenes from numerous movies, Marclay assembles snippets of film depicting the faces of clocks or watches as well as scenes where actors mention the time. Every minute of a day’s 24 hours is represented in sequence by multiple cinematic representations during each 60 second time span. For each specified minute, Marclay’s video might show cuts from several films. The segments are chosen from such a wide range of movies, that the physical task of gathering and assembling the fragments of that many moving images is prodigious in of itself. The whole video spools out with projected representations of real time- a quick glance at one’s watch confirms that the 7:04 PM  shown on screen is correct.

Marclay didn’t simply find corresponding images of clocks and watches to stitch together to play out the 24 hours of elapsed time; his choices from the many film sources are extraordinary, surprising and masterful. The interweaving of film clips creates a disjunctive but narrative arc. If this concept was simply assembled with images of the requisite clock faces, the juxtaposed action and sound tracks from totally different films could have been jarring or incongruous. Marclay combines one sequence to another with sensitivity to the transitions of both the film sound tracks as well as how the last frame of action in a preceding clip leads into the action of the succeeding clip. In one scene from a foreign language film, a small boy gazes at dusty digital watches through a shop window. After a time, he enters the shabby shop. When the proprietor stoops behind the sales counter presumably to show something to the boy,  Marclay cuts the scene before we can see the transaction.  The next scene, in an expensively decorated room is of a gold pocket watch with cover being opened and wound. In many edits, the sound track from some earlier clips is carried over to the next clip. Sometimes Marclay’s video would return to a film used earlier and pick up the action from where it last left off. This mélange is at once musically and visually symphonic. The video is variously suspenseful, dramatic and funny, It is also highly anticipatory– much like watching a clock and hoping that time will pass, I found myself, at times, wondering when the next minute would be projected or spoken by an on screen actor.

Simply contemplating how the artist chose the segments of film and assembled the pieces into a 24 hour work is awe inspiring. So many thoughts come to mind in watching the cavalcade of imagery: what is happening in a particular clip; what film is it; when was it made; who are the actors, and lastly how great is the mind that envisioned this work? Of the many artists who choose to work with appropriated material,  Marclay is possibly the most transformative of his material. One never forgets that the source material originated elsewhere, but the finished works are always truly recontexualized by the hand, mind and eye of this artist. The Clock has to be his most elaborate work to date. On Fridays the gallery is open overnight so that the complete cycle can be viewed. While the scale of the gallery screening is a very important aspect of viewing the work, I still wish that the work would be streamed on line. In that way one could access it over successive days and eventually see the entire video. This is a work of genius, and I long to get back to the gallery to spend more time watching the Clock.