• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Zurich hosts Christian Marclay's masterful time piece

George Mills · 30 Aug 2012, 12:18

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:

Story continues below…

"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
Swiss to back surveillance law in Sunday poll
A security camera keeps watch over proceedings in Davos: Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP

Privacy versus security: it's a tension confronting democracies the world over, with Swiss voters facing their own test on Sunday.

Swiss politician argues against hijab in ID photos
The official guidelines should what ID photos allow. Photo: FedPol

Should the Islamic headscarf be banned in photographs for official Swiss documents?

Swiss driverless bus trial suspended after crash
Photo: PostBus

The pioneering self-driving bus was involved in a minor collision with a van.

Swiss supermarkets to charge for plastic bags
Photo: Migros

Migros and Coop will introduce charges for single-use plastic bags this year.

Swiss police arrest Algerian rebel wanted in France
Merouane Benahmed in 2015. Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP

Merouane Benahmed has filed a claim for asylum in Switzerland.

In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: Royal Savoy

On the eve of its inauguration, The Local takes a peek inside the Royal Savoy in Lausanne.

Swiss-EU relations
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
The Swiss President and EU leaders cosy up at the opening of the Gotthard tunnel in June. Photo: Ruben Sprich/AFP

Is the Brexit camp taking note?

Valais man caught driving 100km/hr over speed limit
The speed was recorded by a police radar camera. Photo: Valais police

He could face a four-year prison sentence.

Swiss-EU relations
Row as Swiss MPs give in on EU migrant curbs
The debate over EU immigration became heated in parliament on Wednesday. File photo: Justus Blumer

Is parliament's proposal a necessary solution or the “death of direct democracy”?

Wawrinka continues winning streak in Russia
The Swiss champ during his US Open title match. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP

Top seeded US Open champion Stan Wawrinka cruised comfortably into the last eight at the Saint Petersburg Open.

Sponsored Article
7 tips for learning Swiss French
Photo: AFP
National
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
National
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Photo: File
Politics
Bern argues over passports for 3rd generation foreigners
Photo: Broad Bean Media
Education
Muslim pupils must shake hands – ‘no ifs and buts’
Photo: AFP
Society
Swiss ‘slave children’ to finally get compensation
Photo: Jan Geerk/Swiss-image.ch
Lifestyle
Zurich named ‘greenest’ city on the planet
Photo: Swiss
National
Brawl over seats forces Swiss to abort flight
Photo: Daniel Stockhammer
Culture
Research shows typical Swiss chalets ‘not actually Swiss’
Photo: AFP
National
Switzerland to get nationwide disaster alert system
Photo: S3
National
Swiss space firm boss left badly injured in violent attack
Photo: ETH Zurich
Education
ETH Zurich crowned best uni in continental Europe – again
File photo: Martin Abegglen
National
Report: Swiss citizenship rules leave some stateless
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
National
Fatal crash: pilot told to fly below safe altitude
Photo: Peter Linke
Business & Money
Elderly Italian on benefits stashed €1m in Swiss bank
Photo: Stuart Richards
Society
Court sides with chickens in dispute over noisy henhouse
Photo: SAC
Lifestyle
Hiking: 7 incredible Swiss Alpine Club cabins
Photo: David Abercrombie
National
Swiss politician arrested over illegal entry of migrants
Photo: Coiffure X
National
Chewbacca stolen in ‘terrorist attack’ on Swiss hair salon
Photo: AFP
National
Foreigners in Switzerland surpass 2 million mark
Photo: AFP
National
Expert predicts major quake for Switzerland by 2040
Photo: The Local
National
Geneva runs out of permits for non-EU workers
Photo:C Carlstead
National
Geneva advises teachers on religion in school
4,315
jobs available