As a student in art school, Christian Marclay, found more ‘energy’ in the music scene and got involved in music DJing more so than art, which he found comparatively more ‘stoic’ at the time, pioneering the technique of scratching, of using the turn-table as an instrument, in concocting strange sounds that fans enjoyed along with the rhythms of their dance music.
Lately his interests have returned to the visual arts, taking the Golden Lion Award for best artist at the 2011 Venice Biennale and making strange video/films to be exhibited in museums worldwide. What he does has in fact stayed the same; just as in the days of DJing for Hip-hop events, he takes source material, be it sounds or music from an LP, footage from a classic Hollywood movie, or video footage walking the streets of London, material that should be discarded and mashes it up, taking certain common attributes, linking them together and transforming it into something else in the process.
His most famous, notorious work, The Clock (2010) a 24-hour film made up of thousands of scenes from Hollywood films spliced together, new and old, in which any clock or watch scene showing the time, would correspond to the real time at the display venue, poses the following existential question: what if one could tell the time by watching a movie? Would the movie turn into a clock? Even though the plot had to be slowed down by having the time pass in the movie at the same rate as real time, but by matching the two together, the line between illusion and reality is blurred.
Because there is no beginning, ending or plot, one is somehow always conscious of the time during the film, always checking to see if the real time corresponds to the time shown in the film at any moment. This is different to other films Marclay has done such as Telephones (1995) which also has no definate plot, but because human beings behave in a similar fashion with few subtle variations when using a telephone, responding to a ringing phone, or when we hang up, there is a progression to follow, which allows for greater viewer participation.
Video Quartet (2002) follows similar lines in that video excepts from various recordings of musicians playing music or singing, are mixed together in a 4 channel installation, although this time, the excepts are grouped and displayed together according to musical attributes, for example an operatic rising crescendo, and scenes of 4 different operas at the moment of their rising crescendos would be shown, or of the hard hitting, jazz style speed piano playing, and 4 different scenes of these would be displayed.
At other times its a mix, a mumble jumble of sounds, of jazz drummers, violins, harps, pianos, horror movie screams, door knock sounds etc.. The overrall result is a symphony of sounds, sometimes abstract, sometimes lyrical, producing somewhat of a new type of music.
On the visual side of the videos, Marclay seems to have a penchant for classic Hollywood scenes, and its paradoxical effect when displayed in today’s world; how it transforms to another meaning now, as compared to when it was originally shown; sometimes the resultant mood is light and humourous, other times its darker and more sinister.
Marclay has also been interested in whats known as ‘onomatopoeia’ in American traditional superhero comics which is a way of communicating sound in written form, firstly by fragmenting actual comic strip illustrations, then isolating these onomatopoeic words in an action painting, or in a silent video where these words are in a motion which corresponds to the motion word implies…
The most recent iteration would see these onomatopoeic words laid out in a 60′ scroll, the words curving, flowing around the paper like a Chinese painting, and finally having a voice artist make these sounds, croaking and screeching according to the words on the scroll as if it was a musical score.
For this series of works it seems like Marclay is, on the one hand, conducting an experiment on the experience of these onomatopoeic words and whether it registers real sound in people’s consciousness, and on the other, paying homage to the works of Roy Lichtenstein and the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock, while at the same time providing a re-interpretion on American abstract expressionism, extending it and transforming it in the process.