January 23, 2013

Sitting Through Time

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Time is not something we spend too much time thinking about. Where is it? Can we control it? On New Year’s Eve at 5 p.m., as the Museum of Modern Arm officially closed, The Clock started. It was especially appropriate given that New Year’s is one of the only times that we collectively celebrate time, that vaguely defined and vastly complicated human construct. It turns out that sitting through time might be the most interesting way to pass it.

The Clock, Christian Marclay’s latest avant-garde cinematic experience, is interesting both in concept and in theaters. The “film” is actually a montage of 24 hours of movie footage, all ripped from the past 100 years of film history. There are scenes from French, Italian and American movies — even High School Musical makes an appearance. What ties the entire film together is clocks. Marclay found shots from films where clocks were somewhere in the frame, whether prominent or hidden, from every single minute of the day, and ordered those shots in such a way that the seconds, minutes and hours are never altered or skipped. In the end, this conglomeration of unrelated shots comes to form a 24-hour day. In essence, Marclay’s work is simultaneously free from the constraints of a linear — or rational —  storyline and bound by the constraints of time itself.

Born in California, raised in Switzerland, educated in American art schools and based in Manhattan and London, Marclay is known for his challenging and experimental works, which often combine sounds, noise, video and film into one indefinable genre. His work constantly pushs the boundaries of the art world, even as it blurs the lines between different mediums. Starting as a D.J. in the punk rock scene of the 1970s, Marclay has worked on visual art for museums around the world. However, The Clock is his most ambitious work yet.

Capturing time takes a lot of time. To make this piece, Marclay spent three years finding and cutting the film’s thousands of excerpts. With the help of Final Cut Pro, he had to watch films to find the clocks — something that doesn’t exactly catch the untrained eye. This arduous process requires an almost uncanny amount of attention to detail. In one scene, the clock is behind the receptionist as a man comes to meet a woman at a bar. In another scene, there is a brief shot of a watch in the middle of a drug deal. Sometimes the clock is the focus of the shot and sometimes it’s just another prop.

Watching The Clock, I was completely captivated. What should have been tedious, long and time consuming was incredibly interesting, clever and thought-provoking. As the clock moved each minute, I felt that I was peeling away more of the mystery of ubiquitous time.

No still or minute does the entire piece justice. As a viewer, I felt like I was at once paying attention to the present scene and to the entire concept of the film. I was interested to see the next clip but I was also searching for the clock in the frame.

What I most enjoyed about The Clock is that it does not reveal, or even vaguely reference, its maker. It’s a piece meant to make you sit and think, providing a landscape upon which a viewer can ruminate about time, what it means and where it is, or if it even is. Although it leaves the viewer with more questions than answers, it’s successful in putting time on the human level.

The Clock is almost too clever. It has a concept you just need to explain to others and a depth that will keep you thinking for a long time. It’s timeless. Take a minute or 24 hours. See it.

Original Author: Meredith Joyce