• Switzerland's news in English
 
WATCHING THE CLOCK
Zurich hosts Christian Marclay's masterful time piece
Photo: Dlee

Zurich hosts Christian Marclay's masterful time piece

Published: 30 Aug 2012 12:18 GMT+02:00

For his latest work, the Geneva-raised sound and video artist ransacked a century’s worth of movies to find scenes that contained references to time. Marclay then spent three years stitching together many thousands of tiny film snippets. The result – currently on show at Zurich’s Kunsthaus – is a sly and surprisingly moving video meditation on the nature of time called The Clock.

All this may seem like a strange project for someone who recently confessed in the New Yorker magazine that he knows next to nothing about cinema. But The Clock is not entirely new territory for this artist who left Switzerland for the States in his early twenties. In fact, he has spent the better part of the last three decades creating videos that make use of old footage, including the hilarious 1995 work Telephones and 2002’s Video Quartet.

What is new here, though, is the sheer scale of Marclay’s work. While most video installations run for a matter of minutes, The Clock lasts an epic 24 hours. It plays in real time and most of these scenes – although by no means all – feature either a watch or a clock that constantly reminds the viewer of the time.

The Clock is also synched with real time in the world outside - a clever hook, since it means that whatever time you begin viewing the piece, that time will also appear somewhere on the screen in front of you. This leads, in turn, to strange intersections with the world you have just left behind. If, like me, you start watching at a quarter past one in the afternoon, the on screen action will include, for instance, people eating lunch, or waking up with hangovers.

And if this all sounds rather facile, don’t fret. Marclay’s spirited editing rescues The Clock from banality. As you watch, you are flung from a 1950s bank heist into a 1970s news room, and then suddenly you are accosted by a snippet of a Denzel Washington thriller from 2009. Yes, it’s a little disconcerting at first, but you soon get into the flow.

Along the way, there are little jolts of pleasure that come from recognising a film you know or from trying to match a scene to a film. Then there is the fun that comes with spotting the wrist watch or grandfather clock or whatever sort of time piece happens to be on offer in each scene.

The Clock is also highly addictive. The longer you stay, the harder it is to leave, partly because, as with life, you don’t want to miss anything. You are also kept on the edge of your seat by the beautiful pacing of this film, sometimes frantic, at other moments languorous. Clocks tick. People wait for trains to arrive. Insects buzz. Often, too, expectations are subverted. Momentum builds and then fades to nothing. Climaxes are omitted.

Another clear element of the The Clock’s global success is its humour. Sometimes the film is funny simply because of the quality of Marclay’s source material; we have, for instance, a hilarious scene where comedian Harold Lloyd dangles high above a street from a clock in his 1923 film Safety Last. Far more often, though, the laughs result from Marclay’s canny juxtapositions. 

Credit also has to go to Marclay and his audio co-conspirator Quentin Chiappetta for devising such a wonderful soundtrack. There’s a fantastic rhythm to the noise in The Clock, with sounds often carrying on from one scene to the next so that the viewer subconsciously begins to make associations which are not even there on the screen. There are constant echoes and reverberations.

And this is the subtler power of The Clock. At some stage, the action becomes less important and you can’t help pondering the nature of time. As Marclay told US talk show host Charlie Rose:

"You become part of this experience because your schedule, your life will be somehow influenced by, or will become part of, this narrative. You become an actor in this film."

Christian Marclay’s The Clock is showing at Zurich’s Kunsthaus until September 9th. Tickets allowing entry to the installation and the gallery’s general collection cost 15 francs. There will also be a special night viewing from August 31st to September 1st.

George Mills (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
SVP loses ground but remains strongest party
The SVP was behind the controversial referendum to limit immigration. Photo: Mike Knell

SVP loses ground but remains strongest party

Support for the rightwing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has fallen while centre-left parties are gaining in popularity, according to a voter survey. READ  

Singer Udo Juergens dies suddenly aged 80
Juergens died unexpectedly. Photo: AFP

Singer Udo Juergens dies suddenly aged 80

Swiss-Austrian crooner Udo Juergens, whose more than 50-year career was studded with hits in languages ranging from German to Japanese, died on Sunday following a heart attack. He was 80. READ  

SBB moots free coffee for off-peak train users
The SBB is responding to complaints that trains are overcrowded. Photo: ZO/AvU

SBB moots free coffee for off-peak train users

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) is considering options to ease train congestion next year, including incentives - such as free coffee - to travel outside rush hours. READ  

Ex-banker admits lying over French tax fraud
Pierre Condamin-Gerbier. Photo: AFP

Ex-banker admits lying over French tax fraud

A man who acknowledged lying when he served as a key witness in a major French tax fraud investigation was sentenced to a two-year suspended prison term in the Swiss canton of Ticino on Friday. READ  

Swiss spills beans about guarding the pope
Photo: David Geisser

Swiss spills beans about guarding the pope

Although better known today for their colourful uniforms than their centuries-old reputation as fearless warriors, the Swiss Guards remain a powerful symbol of the Vatican. The Local speaks to David Geisser, one of the latest recruits, about a career protecting popes.
 READ  

Massive write-downs soak Axpo in red ink
Photo: Axpo

Massive write-downs soak Axpo in red ink

Swiss utility company Axpo said on Friday that eroding wholesale prices for electricity have forced it to write down 1.5 billion francs on the value of its power plants and energy supply contracts. READ  

Banks vow negative rates won't be passed on
Photo: Yoshiko Kusano/Photopress

Banks vow negative rates won't be passed on

Major banks in Switzerland say they have no intention of charging small savers negative interest rates in the wake of the Swiss National Bank’s decision this week to charge such rates to financial institutions. READ  

Suspected stabber Nabilla freed from prison
Photo: AFP

Suspected stabber Nabilla freed from prison

Swiss model and French reality TV star Nabilla Benattia left a women’s prison in Versailles, France on Thursday on conditional release while facing charges of attempted murder after stabbing her boyfriend. READ  

Swiss school grad 'hero' among café siege victims
Photo: César Ritz Colleges/Facebook

Swiss school grad 'hero' among café siege victims

César Ritz Colleges, a Swiss hotel management school group, issued a tribute on its Facebook page to a former graduate who died while trying to end this week’s café hostage-taking incident in Sydney, Australia that left three people dead and five people injured. READ  

Forecast cuts 2015 Swiss economic growth
What, me worry? Swiss economy seen as continuing to defy trend in eurozone. Photo: Credit Suisse

Forecast cuts 2015 Swiss economic growth

The Swiss federal government's experts' group says Switzerland's economic prospects remain favourable in a "risky environment" although it cut its growth forecast for 2015. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Features
The Local's top ten snow sport alternatives to skiing in Switzerland
International
Swiss chocolate café at centre of hostage-taking drama Down Under
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
Features
Exploring the 'most beautiful village' in French-speaking Switzerland
Business & Money
Italian thieves steal 260 tons of Swiss Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate
National
World's longest train tunnel — under the Swiss Alps — set to open in 2016
National
Switzerland's Christmas market season gets into full swing
National
Porn film on video screen spices up fare at Swiss McDonald's restaurant
National
Masturbation scene in Swiss TV ad for Media Markt draws complaints
National
Cantonal lawmakers end 'happy hours' tippling in Vaud pubs and bars
Politics
Former concert pianist Sommaruga elected as next Swiss president
Culture
Jailed German art forger's paintings go on sale at Bern gallery
Business & Money
Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad's family listed as Switzerland's richest
Features
Long-time expats face dilemma: to be or not to be a Swiss citizen
National
Switzerland's voters massively reject strict immigration limits
Business & Money
Pieces of Napoleon's auctioned hair to be put in Geneva luxury watches
National
Activists petition federal government for ban on eating cats and dogs
National
Swiss meat firm faces scandal over alleged false labelling of products
Sport
Federer victory gives Switzerland its first Davis Cup tennis title
Business & Money
Italy's PM upset over Swiss mogul's acquittal in asbestos deaths
Business & Money
University of Zurich study finds 'banker's oath' could spur honesty
National
Swiss National Bank chief calls proposal to boost gold reserves 'fatal'
National
Mudslides kill four people in Ticino and neighbouring Italy
Culture
British X Factor star seeks internet support for Swiss Eurovision place
National
Court overturns ban by backing right for schoolgirl to wear scarf
National
Swiss ranking for English skills worsens among non-Anglo countries
Culture
Swiss model and French TV star Nabilla held for 'attempted murder'
Travel
Switzerland's Zermatt voted best ski resort in the Alps by skiers
Sport
VIDEO: FC Zurich claims crime after 'vicious' tackle hospitalizes player
Tech
Federal government announces new '.swiss' internet domain name
National
Zany emergency: Basel firefighters rescue ass stuck in manhole
Business & Money
American jury clears former UBS top executive of tax fraud
International
Switzerland ranks second to Norway in global 'prosperity' index
National
Financial regulator bans former Coop Bank CEO for three years
International
Switzerland slips in World Economic Forum's gender equality rankings
National
Job candidates unhappy with hiring process in Switzerland
National
Glacier 3000 opens new foot bridge spanning two mountains in Vaud
National
Swiss seek special Unesco heritage listing for yodelling and watchmaking
International
Switzerland regarded as best place in world for expats: global survey
National
Red faces at Migros over Hitler and Mussolini coffee cream pots
National
Quarter of workers in Switzerland 'stressed out': new survey
Travel
Lonely Planet ranks Zermatt among top places to visit in 2015
Features
Eritrean asylum seekers find refuge in Swiss monastery town
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

2,027
jobs available
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists.
Details and how to apply