Monday, 15 November 2010



I first saw Marclay’s work in 2002 as part of Mike Ricketts’ Art Now course at Tate Modern. Video Quartet is a collage of synchronised film clips transferred to colour video and audio track on four huge screens standing side by side. Marclay uses either the original music/voice/sound effects or inserts other found sound, such as car horns, tapping feet and glasses being filled with water. It begins quietly with tuning up, moves into a crescendo, then cacophony and finally calm. The music is said to suggest 'the poetry & chaos of contemporary life, personal & anonymous, free & suppressed’. When I went back later people were having a great time dancing in the gallery.
This month Marclay has been back in town.  The White Cube Gallery - - which lurks in Mason’s Yard, Piccadilly, is the sort of building which amplifies whatever state-of-mind you bring to it. On good days it’s as fresh, exhilarating and breath-taking as an ocean gale.  You reel around as if on a deck awash with new ideas.  Today it’s just a square of  cold steel, concrete and glass stripped of colour, sharp edges and corners, bare walls and lots of steps to climb and re-climb (lift not working), plus reception staff  who, for reasons known only to themselves,  have hit on the device of pretending no one’s there.

Down, down into the basement and a pitch black cinema. A charming young man with a torch offers to find me a seat.  I can no more call him an ‘usher’ - with its hint of trays loaded with choc ice cream and pop corn  - then I can designate  the large comfy settees scattered randomly over the floor as ‘cinema seats’, for they do not tip up and are neither  scanty nor hard as a rock.

There is no starting time for Marclay’s 24 hour video. 'The Clock' is a collage of thousands of fragments of cinema at moments when time is expressed or a character interacts with a clock, watch or anything telling the time. They are woven together so that they flow in real time: I know I arrived at 10am exactly because it said so on the screen. But swiftly it’s a few seconds past 10 and I’m caught up in a vast current of narratives, settings and moods within the space of a few minutes. Time and place unravel all over the screen: b/w and colour, film noir and Tony Hancock; tenderness and cruelty lie cheek by jowl. Some events are more  clock-dependent than others so heists, job interviews, funerals and kidnapping are more popular than ,say, childbirth, marriage proposals or heart attacks. It’s bracing stuff.

Normally I go to a cinema and consent to be transported by a narrative (or non-narrative) anywhere at any time: past, present or future. When I come out I may be surprised that it’s dark or raining, as if I had expected my real time to be suspended. With The Clock the position is reversed. The viewer’s time is rooted in the here and now and is as predictable as ever, but it is stuffed full of countless fictional events -  punctuated by stabs of personal memories of films and actors and settings already known - which appear to be going on while she is sitting in the cinema. As I said it’s bracing stuff.

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