Tokyo Review

Vol. 1: Christian Marclay "The Clock"
Hatanaka Minoru
Date: November 24, 2011

"How to be a Skilled Viewer" is a new training program for would-be critics and reviewers, co-hosted by REALTOKYO and Tokyo Art Research Lab. The first installment on October 8, 2011, was dedicated to Christian Marclay’s "The Clock", which was recently shown at the Yokohama Triennale 2011. NTT InterCommunication Center [ICC] chief curator Hatanaka Minoru watched the piece together with students participating in the program, and contributed the following account.


Event Info

Yokohama Triennale 2011

Time: August 6 – November 6, 2011

Location: Bank ART Studio NYK, others

One characteristic of the language of film is the possibility to condense various sequences of time through the process of editing together from footage taken in different local and temporal settings. Following the format of theatre, this method was established as a means of telling a story in moving pictures. This narrative technique makes it possible to jump back and forth between past, present and future within the same (film) story, and thus describe all kinds of narratives. However, there do exist works in which the duration (screening time) of the movie itself is perfectly identical with the time progress of events depicted on the screen. In the case of a movie of this type that is two hours long, it portrays events that are exactly two hours long as well. These are not the same two hours during which the actors performed in front of the camera though, but even where the duration of the narrative is identical with the duration of the movie, there must be some kind of editing involved. In other words, this means that it is through editing that a movie as such comes into being. There do of course exist totally unedited movies, but in general one may call a movie a "time collage" of sorts.


Christian MARCLAY: The Clock / 2010 / Courtesy the Artist and White Cube | REALTOKYO
Christian MARCLAY: The Clock / 2010 / Courtesy the Artist and White Cube

Christian Marclay’s "The Clock" is a work of the kind mentioned above. The duration of the movie is identical with the duration of the events in it. In addition to that, it is a movie in which even the time overlaps with the real time of day. As suggested by the title, it is a movie of 24 hours length, and consists of sequences showing clocks or describing a time of day, clipped from countless movies made at different times in all kinds of places. Each minute of the 24 hours is assigned to one particular movie scene showing the corresponding time (I will explain below why this is more than just a result of a simple allotment process.)


While I cannot say with certainty that it’s always exactly one movie per minute, a simple calculation of minutes per 24 hours suggests that the material used must be taken from a total of 1,440 (60 x 24) movies. Considering this, one can easily imagine how much time and effort went into the making of this work. While it may sound quite natural that every single minute of the day appeared at least once somewhere in a movie, locating these movies and the according sequences surely isn't an easy task, let alone editing all these snippets into a new movie.


Marclay set up research and editing teams that spent several years researching and collecting film material, and another two years and a half editing everything. From the point the actual creation process started, an additional year passed before production methods and prospects of completion finally became visible, which shows just how large the scale of this work is. Since its unveiling at a gallery in London last fall, the piece was screened in New York, Paris and Seoul among others, was awarded a Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Biennale, and finally was part of the Yokohama Triennale 2011.


When shown at the Triennale, the work was subject to the screening facility’s business hours, as a result of which visitors could only watch it for seven hours between 11:00 and 18:00. In order to show the entire work, the artist could have divided it into arbitrary parts that would be screened one by one for example, but that would have meant to abandon the work’s concept of being in tune with the 24 hours of a day in real life. There was a 24-hour screening event during the Triennale (which I didn't catch), but the question how many people actually have the physical power to sit there and watch for 24 straight hours is still one problem that has to be solved. In a way, the movie may be considered as one that refuses to be watched. In certain aspects it is at once similar in style to the works of Fluxus and related movements of avant-garde art that influenced Marclay. Nonetheless, even if there wasn't a single individual that watched the entire movie in the end, "The Clock" was de facto completed as a movie with a length of 24 hours.


Christian MARCLAY: The Clock / 2010 / Courtesy the Artist and White Cube | REALTOKYO
Christian MARCLAY: The Clock / 2010 / Courtesy the Artist and White Cube

There are vast numbers of movies cited in the work, but as I'm on unfamiliar territory here, I know only a fraction of the countless sources. The production process was "very simple", as the artist himself puts it. "The Clock" is "a movie that follows a fixed structural framework. One hour is made up of sixty minutes, and when a section of a movie shows six minutes past five, all I can do is insert that image at the corresponding point." (*) As, in other words, the positions (time slots) of individual scenes are predetermined by the time they are actually showing, we can also speak of a deterministic work of sorts. For this reason, at a glance it doesn't look as if the different movies were arbitrarily edited in accordance with a certain storyline. Nevertheless, it is a real pleasure to see movies with completely different contexts connected by such factors as the protagonists' actions and situations. It does of course happen that depictions of exactly the same time of day appear in multiple movies, so that there are several candidates from which the best were probably chosen for this work.


The audio editing was quite obviously done with even greater care than the video editing. It reminded me of the films of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Mieville. "Sonimage", the name of the production company the two co-founded, is a straightforward expression of their attitude to cinema, considering film as a fusion of sound and image on an equal basis. In this work, in some places the audio of a scene is continued even after the cut to the next scene, while in others the sound of the next scene is audible even before the picture changes. Through this kind of manipulation – an effect that is frequently used in film editing – audio and video are suggestively interlinked. In this movie composed of scenes that, in a way, are totally unrelated except for the progression of time, sound overlaps or precedes the image, and thus functions as a "joint" for collaging unconnected elements. In other words, it plays an important role stabilizing the work’s temporal continuity and consistency.


Marclay has employed the technique of the collage many times before, and one may in fact call it an essential means in the creative process of his work. His catalogue of works ranges from plain collages of multiple record covers, to assemblages and installations made up of vinyl records, CDs, cassette tapes, speakers and other objects. Likewise, in the turntable performances that used to be some kind of trademark for Marclay, he has been creating works by piecing together fragments of multiple records – materially or as audio sources – which can be considered as an expansion of the basic concept of the collage.


Marclay has been employing the same method also in his video works, such as "Telephones" (1995) or "Video Quartet" (2002), which was introduced at the International Festival for Arts and Media Yokohama 2009, only using film footage instead of audio snippets. Following the above-mentioned two works, based on such ideas as evoking in the viewer psychological effects through repeated calling or speaking on the telephone, and forming a musical quartet by assembling performance scenes on four multi-screens respectively, "The Clock" turned out as a compilation of sorts of such type of work in terms of concept, technique and scale alike.


Speaking of extremely long movies, such "minimalism movies" as Andy Warhol’s "Empire" from the 1960s come to mind. Shot with a fixed camera, this virtually eventless piece shows the Empire State Building for a full eight hours (which is only one third of "The Clock"), offering the same picture hours upon hours just like the building itself continues to be there on end. Like Warhol’s silkscreen prints environmentalize images of cows or Campbell soup cans through repetition of the same image, "Empire" may be regarded as a movie that environmentalizes an architectural construction.


Christian MARCLAY: The Clock / 2010 / Courtesy the Artist and White Cube | REALTOKYO
Christian MARCLAY: The Clock / 2010 / Courtesy the Artist and White Cube

The fact that Marclay states that "there probably is hardly anyone who watches 'The Clock' from beginning to end"(*), and at once hints that this work is a "clock" much rather than a "movie", is very interesting. As a clock is something one looks at only in situations one needs to know the time, he assumed this 24-hour-long movie to be installed in environments where it can actually be looked at like a clock.


As mentioned in the beginning of this text, the language of film is like that of a time collage. Many a movie squeezes a narrative into a time frame that is considered as commercially valid, for which a timeline different from real time is invented to introduce the viewer to the respective dramaturgy. "The Clock", on the other hand, is a work with two different time axes running parallel, as it juxtaposes edited visuals on a timeline that is synchronized with reality. In addition, Marclay points out the additional flavor of the viewer’s awareness regarding the amount of time he/she spent watching the movie.


In the average movie, a clock appears as a secondary, "stage prop" kind of item in the background, where it fulfills the function of an indicator of narrative key points by marking turning points or breaking the story into chapters. It is shown in order to explain a situation, dramatically staged to emphasize a sense of urgency, or used for various other purposes describing the passage of time or psychological circumstances. It is the role of the clock to visualize the time that continually passes behind the story, and in this work is basically a collection of just these central elements extracted from various movies. In other words, it is a work that exhibits the aspect of time as something that shows up once in a while to bustle us. Our daily actions are controlled by time, and all kinds of events are occurring on the very same timeline.


One can say that the protagonist in this work is time itself, rather than the clock. This means that the persons appearing in each cut seem reduced to supporting players that are tossed about by time, just like it is time that never ever lets us come to rest.


*From an interview with Christian Marclay:


Tokyo Art Research Lab (TARL)

Research-based human resource training program of Tokyo Artpoint Project(*), with the ultimate aim to construct a sustainable system by scooping up and analyzing potentials and problems involved art projects. The "How to be a Skilled Viewer" course, conducted by REALTOKYO editor-in-chief Ozaki Tetsuya, was planned and is co-hosted by TARL and REALTOKYO.


*A shared art project between artists and residents, promoting collaboration across different disciplines and locales in the city. Part of the Tokyo Culture Creation Project launched in 2008 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture.

Writer’s Profile

Hatanaka Minoru / Born 1968. Chief curator at NTT InterCommunication Center [ICC]. Has been involved with the ICC since its opening in 1996. Exhibitions he curated include "Sound Art – Sound as Media" (2000), "Sounding Spaces – 9 Sound Installations" (2003), "Laurie Anderson: The Record of Time" (2005), "Silent Dialogue" (2007), "Exploration in Possible Spaces" (2010), "Vibrations of Entities" (2010), etc. Has also been planning exhibitions of Dumb Type, Maywa Denki, Laurie Anderson, Hachiya Kazuhiko and other artists, and organized numerous live concerts and other music-related events. Hatanaka was one of the curators of "Roppongi Crossing: New Visions in Contemporary Japanese Art 2004" (Mori Art Museum), and curated a showcase of Japanese artists at the Sonar Festival (Barcelona) in 2006.