When you get into an absorbing book, or a gripping movie, it is easy to lose track of time. You might even argue that the ability to get you to switch off your surroundings is almost a prerequisite element of any work of art worth its salt. That’s certainly the case with The Clock which, in fact, is not a movie, although it is movie-based.
The Clock is a 24-hour video installation, created by American artist Christian Marclay, which has done the rounds of a number of major museums across the globe, including in London, New York, Los Angeles and Paris, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
For the past month-and-a-half visitors to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art have been able to settle into gray two-seater sofas – Marclay stipulated that the same furniture be used at all screening venues – and watch a slice or two of the pastiche action. The installation will be in Tel Aviv until May 19.
I squeezed in about 20 minutes’ worth of viewing a month or so ago, and noted that people tended to flit in and out of the darkened installation space. As I was due to sit down with curator Suzanne Landau – who also serves as the museum’s director and chief curator – for a chat about The Clock
I was a little concerned that I might lose track of time and miss my slot with her.
Then the absurdity of my concern suddenly struck me. How could I fail to keep tabs on the time when it was being presented to me on screen, literally, each and every minute, in real time? All the clocks and watches in the collage scenes show the viewer the precise here-and-now time. Chuckling at my own silliness I dragged myself away from Marclay’s strangely compelling work and went to chat with Landau.
The curator was empathetic about my imagined loss of temporal bearings.
“It completely breaks the cinematic time element,” she noted somewhat enigmatically. “When we go to the movie theater we sort of enter into a different dimension of time, and a different place. But here, Marclay brings reality into cinema. It is hypnotic and addictive. It is difficult to get up and leave.”
Then again, what could be more boring than watching a collage of snippets of thousands of movies, whose only common denominator is the fact that you see a timepiece in some part of the frame, or hear one of the characters note the time? Surely we need an evolving storyline to grab our attention, and keep us riveted to our seats?The Clock
got it first public airing in 2010, at the White Cube gallery in London. Landau got in from the very start, and was duly professionally and emotionally ensnared.
“You could say I have been trying to bring the installation here since the first time I saw it. I happened to be in London when they had the premiere, so I got to see it at the White Cube.”
Landau was taken with the installation, and got another chance to see it when it ran at the Israel Museum a year or so after its London debut.
“It was wonderful to see it again,” Landau recalled. “It left me feeling euphoric. I was determined to acquire it for the [Tel Aviv] museum.”
Then again, there was a financial reality to be met.
“It was very expensive for us, but it is a video installation. It is not something you have to store in some large facility. Ultimately, we acquired it together with Tate Modern [in London] and the Pompidou Center [in Paris], so we only had to pay a third,” she added with a laugh.
The bottom line may have been tailored to the museum’s purse strings but there were still some intricate legal logistics to be navigated.
“We had to have two contracts, one with the other museums, and one with the artist. It took some time but, you see, we managed it.”
The curator may be enamored with the work, but she hasn’t quite managed to see it all.
“I haven’t watched the full 24 hours. I’m missing a bit of time from the middle of the night. I ran out of strength.”
Well, Landau – and the rest of us – have a couple of opportunities to catch the whole time-based shebang at 24-hour screenings on April 26 and May 10, naturally ending on the morrow in both cases. The first full run-through happened on March 22.
Ordinarily, food and beverages are not allowed into the museum but, thankfully, there will be a supply of coffee available for people who opt to view the installation in its entirety.
MARCLAY CAME up with the notion of The Clock
while working on his 2005 piece Screen Play
. The latter is a video score in which film footage is fused with computer animation to create a visual work that is then fed off by musicians.The Clock
incorporates excerpts from thousands of movie scenes, and proved to be a mammoth venture. Marclay recruited a team to root out suitable footage, and took a further three years to piece it all together. The end product was a smash hit with the art-loving public and critics alike, taking the Golden Lion award at the 2011 Venice Biennale.
Even having watched a snippet or two of the work, I still can’t fathom its appeal. How can a very lengthy video montage, with very brief slots taken from all kinds of movies, from across a wide swath of genres, styles and eras, draw you in so powerfully?
It takes about a microsecond to slip into the mood, about as long as it takes your rear end to settle comfortably into your half of the sofa.
Logical or not, Marclay has clearly done a masterly job threading the bits and pieces of footage together so seamlessly. The visual flow is almost imperceptibly supported by a soundtrack, which subtly augments the on-screen action. Landau recommended coming back for me.
“You should see as much of the work as possible, but also try to watch the same parts more than once, so you can appreciate the intricacy of the editing work – of the [visual] excerpts and of the sound.”
The curator says appearances can be deceptive.
“You watch it and you think, oh, he just took that bit and then added that one. He just based it all on the passage of time. He just kept up with the passing minutes.”
Apparently, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“You might see, for example, in one excerpt someone opening a door, and immediately after that someone closing a door, taken from a completely different film, genre and period,” Landau continued. “That’s the relatively simple stuff. Marclay also took bits of dialogue and got them to flow together.”
One plus one, in the case of The Clock
, makes far more than two. In the few minutes I caught, I saw two excerpts from a Paul Newman movie interspersed with vignettes from all kinds of others films. That helped to neatly maintain the visual continuum.
“At the end of the day the theme is time – time in general,” Landau observed, although she is not sold on how viewing the installation affects our perception of time, if at all. “This is just a wonderful creation.”
Then again, Marclay himself had designs on our chronological sensibilities, and even sense of mortality, when he conjured what also comes across as something of a cinematic tour de force.
“He wants to say ‘memento mori’ [in Latin, ‘remember that you must die’], that everything is temporary. Some of the actors in the bits of footage appear at different stages of their life, so we see them as beautiful youngsters but also see the ravages of time as they age. You see Richard Gere and Robert Redford as handsome young men. Then you see them when they are older and less attractive.”
Of course, we all have our own take on time, and the way we see ourselves, but Landau thinks the older crowd may get more of the subtext than the younger visitors to the museum.
“At my age  I am more aware of the passing of time. Younger people are less sensitive to it.”
So, should anyone over the age of, say, 40, bother with The Clock
? After all they may come out entertained but also disconsolate over the “lost” time they have spent cloistered with the installation. Landau doesn’t believe that is the case.
“You spend 24 hours watching The Clock
and you come out feeling you have really lived that time. That is priceless.”
For more information: www.tamuseum.org.il