Set Your Watch By It: The Clock

By Becky Rynor on October 15, 2013

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Christian Marclay, The Clock (2010), single channel video, duration: 24 hours. Purchased 2011 with the generous support of Jay Smith and Laura Rapp, and Carol and Morton Rapp, Toronto. Jointly owned by the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston © the artist. Photo: Ben Westoby. Courtesy White Cube

Jonathan Shaughnessy admits he wasn’t sure what to expect when he finally got the opportunity to watch The Clock. Within a couple of minutes, he was hooked.

“It didn’t take me long to realize there is something deeply special about this work of art,” the National Gallery’s Associate Curator of Contemporary Art recalls of his first encounter with The Clock. “It’s one of those iconic works that captures the imagination like very few can.”

That was in 2010 when video artist Christian Marclay’s internationally-acclaimed ode to time and cinema was unveiled at White Cube in London, England. Since then, it has been purchased by several art museums and galleries, including the National Gallery of Canada. The piece also won a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennial in 2011.

The Clock is made up of thousands of film clips and visual fragments referencing time. Wristwatches, clock towers, sundials, alarm clocks, countdowns or snatches of dialogue mark every minute of the 24 hour day.  It is equally astonishing that The Clock matches the exact time of day the viewer is watching it.

“It’s a 24 hour video synched to real time,” Shaughnessy says. “It’s amazingly edited and the amount of work that is put into creating flow within completely fragmented narratives is extraordinary. I think that’s part of the hook about this work. It’s very watchable and yet one watches in complete knowledge that there is no plot, no narrative can hope to reach fruition, everything is discontinuous.”

On another level, The Clock is “a real crowd pleaser,” according to Paul Butler, curator of the Winnipeg Art Galley where the installation is on loan from the National Gallery from 11 October 2013 to 5 January, 2014.

“We’re trying to reach out with these contagious works,” he says.This is one of those perfect examples of a work that can bring in a larger audience who may be intimidated by contemporary art and may not be comfortable walking in the door. It’s a real outreach piece. It blurs lines between visual art, installation and film but it blurs audience lines too.”

The Clock was several years in the making as the artist and his assistants diligently culled clips from a century of cinema. It is the first work by Christian Marclay to be acquired (jointly with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) by the National Gallery, a work that has been described as nothing less than a contemporary masterpiece.

“Marclay just hits the mark with a work that very much is about what he’s become known for in his art-making—appropriating from movies, music, or popular imagery and turning it into something else,” he says. “He’s found a way to capture his love of cinema, the history and the magic of cinema in a way that reveals its archetypes and forms and also opens onto something broader which is the notion of recording time through moving images.”

Butler says The Clock is engaging, mesmerizing and purely entertaining.

“People walk in intending to spend 15 minutes with this piece and they walk out four hours later,” he says. “It’s hard to fathom how he did this. I wish that I was researching a project when I think about all the hours that I wasted watching tv and movies. It’s just so impressive to think that he sifted through the history of film and organized this. It’s a really incredible feat.”

The Clock is on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until 5 January 2014


By Becky Rynor| October 15, 2013
Categories:  Exhibitions

About the Author

Becky Rynor

Becky Rynor

Becky Rynor is a journalist and editor based in Ottawa.

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