“The Clock”: Christian Marclay’s epic film is a looped 24-hour collage

By on August 1, 2015

Christian Marclay’s 2010 epic film collage, typically known as The Clock is a looped 24-hour single-channel montage that functions as a clock, constructed from tens of thousands of clips, from more than 70 years of cinema and television history, scenes and sequences depicting the passage of time.

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Just After 3PM:

The Clock is an art installation by video artist Christian Marclay, who developed the idea while working on his 2005 piece Screen Play. He realized that he needed a way for musicians to synchronize with film footage. An assistant at the Eyebeam Art and Technology Center brought him footage of clocks, and Marclay began wondering if it was possible to find footage of every minute of the day.

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With the support of the White Cube gallery, Marclay began assembling a team to find footage, which he edited together over the course of three years, working at home in a tiny studio in his fourth floor townhouse in Clerkenwell, London. The Clock is the result of that assemblance, a day-long montage is synchronized and structured so that the resulting artwork always conveys the correct time, minute by minute, in the time zone in which is it being exhibited.

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Marclay debuted The Clock at White Cube’s London gallery in 2010. The work garnered critical praise, winning the Golden Lion at the 2011 Venice Biennale. Its six editions were purchased by major museums, allowing it to attract a widespread following.

Approximatley 3:20PM:

Here’s an excerpt from an interview he did with The Economist, published on August 25, 2010, just as he was finishing the work:

Artworks based on appropriation sometimes get ensnarled in copyright issues. “Technically it’s illegal,” Mr Marclay says of his elaborate re-mix of cinematic snippets, “but most would consider it fair use.” His work ultimately pays homage to the films, particularly the actors.

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“When a scene is well acted, you could look at it 100 times and never get bored. You see the flaws but understand the talent. It’s such a vulnerable profession,” he says. In The Clock, actors crop up at different times of their career. “Their ages offer an interesting twist on time. The work is a giant memento mori.”

Mr. Marclay has been working on this project for two years, using Final Cut Pro software. He used to limit his editing to five hours a day, but he has been putting in ten-to-12 hours seven days a week for months. Such are the occupational hazards of making such a lengthy video.

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“Twenty-four hours is the logical result of the idea. Three hours would be silly,” explains the artist who might spend a whole day working on one minute of video, fitting together ten clips. “I get into a zone when editing. I forget about the time. A whole day will go by. A whole week,” he says emphatically, aware of the irony.

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Six research assistants work from home watching films in search of relevant sequences. For a while they scoured Bollywood films but found little time-marking.

“I guess it’s a different tradition, with a different concept of time,” explains Mr Marclay. By contrast, London’s “Big Ben” is ubiquitous. “It’s the most iconic clock,” he says. “Regardless of the provenance of the film, if the action takes place in London, Big Ben appears.”

The Clock screens on Saturday, August 8th, 2015, at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), will screen in the Art of the Americas Building. The screening will last the full 24-hours. It’s free and open to the public, but remember, first come first served, no reservations. Space is limited, and there may be extensive waiting times. Enter the museum at Wilshire Blvd. and Spaulding Ave. if coming between 8 pm on August 8 and 10 am on August 9. Coffee + Milk will be open until 2 am and reopen at 7 am on Sunday, August 9. Please note that this work contains brief nudity and strong language.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.