14 September 2018 – 20 January 2019
Tate Modern, Blavatnik Building, Level 2
When I first saw 24-hour film The Clock (not all the way through) at the Hayward Gallery in 2011
decided it was the best piece of concept art I had ever seen.
It’s now back in London and I was first out of the blocks to watch it again and meet my hero, the film's maker Christian Marclay.
This landmark work operates as a gripping journey through cinematic history as well as a functioning timepiece. It’s a collage of about 10,000 film and TV clips from the last 100 years, all neatly stitched together with glimpses of clocks, watches and radio alarms all synchronised to real time.
If you are watching the film at 3pm it will be 3pm on the screen, too, transforming artificial ‘cinematic time’ into a sensation of real time inside the gallery.
From Harry Potter missing the 11am train, Dustin Hoffman as the Rainman demanding lunch at 12.30pm to looking at Christopher Walken’s watch in Pulp Ficition, visitors are put through an almost hallucinogenic experience watching people watching the time.
As well as blockbuster movie clips there are obscure films, thrillers, westerns and science fiction, with a huge range of narratives, settings and moods within the space of a few minutes, allowing time to unravel in countless directions at once. It can be tense one minute, hilarious the next.
The film observes daily life and Marcly said: “Almost every film has such a moment – someone in a restaurant checking their watch, waiting for a friend. The idea of documenting the banal is important to me. What creates anxiety is people just waiting and being nervous.”
Marclay and a team of researchers spent three years creating the masterpiece and it was unveiled at the White Cube gallery in London in 2010. The work won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2011 and was sold to the Tate and returns to the city today.
In 2018, the work not only stands the test of time (pardon the pun) but is even more evocative as viewers can contrast their lives which are so linked to life with smart phones and computers.
Tate jointly acquired this video work in 2012 together with the Centre Pompidou, Paris and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. After touring internationally, this is the first time Tate has shown The Clock.
Marclay, 63, is delighted that the viewing is free at Tate Modern and apologies in advance if there are queues. There are no time slots but there will be several 24-hour showings on Saturday, October 6, Saturday, November 3 and Saturday, December 1 so visitors can experience the whole film.
He told me, though, he is not sure if he could repeat the epic feat. He said: “It was not the mental challenge but sitting at a computer for so long, it’s the physical side that would be so hard.”
Marclay, who has a background in music first got the idea for The Clock in the mid-1990s. He had created a seven-minute work called Telephones (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MMfgRg53SU) a video of people making phonecalls.
He said: “I wanted musicians to respond live to the video and mark time so one way to do that was to use clocks. That’s when I thought what if, in the history of film, I could find every minute of 24 hours? But it would take for ever...”
But when he came to London in 2007 (his wife Lydia Yee had been appointed curator at the Barbican), Marclay took his idea to the White Cube gallery and they supported the idea.
“I recruited researchers through an advertisement in a video shop window in Clerkenwell – it would hard to find one these days,” he laughed.
"It specialised in hard-to-find films and experimental things. I asked for films with obvious time themes: thrillers, dramas, James Bond films where the hero always has a luxury watch. We looked at lot of British films: every time something happens in London, you can bet you’re going to see Big Ben. But then I said, ‘Bring me everything!’”
Over the next three years, a team of assistants watched hundreds and hundreds of films, grinding through videocassettes. “My assistants had an account at the store, renting VHS films.
Marclay revealed: “Everything up to midnight was easy, in fact midnight is a highlight. But four or five is very hard. At five, the baker gets up, the street cleaner gets up."
This year Marclay is composer-in-residence for the Huddersfield contemporary music festival, where he is premiering Investigations, an improvisory piece for 20 pianos.
Pianists will work from a “graphic score” rather than a sheet music, but images of hands in various positions on the keyboard
You may not be able to watch all of The Clock but enjoy what you can. Marclay says: "Enjoy it for the moment. Enjoy what you can. When it’s time to eat or go to the bathroom, you leave.”
Following several years of rigorous and painstaking research and production, Marclay edited these excerpts to create an immersive visual and sonic experience. This landmark work operates as a gripping journey through cinematic history as well as a functioning timepiece. The installation is synchronised to local time wherever it is on display, transforming artificial ‘cinematic time’ into a sensation of real time inside the gallery.
Combining clips spanning 100 years of well-known and obscure films, including thrillers, westerns and science fiction, audiences watching The Clock experience a vast range of narratives, settings and moods within the space of a few minutes, allowing time to unravel in countless directions at once.
Christian Marclay is recognised as one of the foremost contemporary artists working in sound and image. He received the prestigious Golden Lion Award at the Venice Biennale in 2011 when The Clock was shown. Tate jointly acquired this celebrated video work in 2012 together with the Centre Pompidou, Paris and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. After touring internationally, this will be the first time Tate has shown The Clock since it joined the Tate collection. The work will be displayed in Tate Modern’s Blavatnik Building which since opening in 2016 has created flexible exhibition space to show large immersive video installations.
Born in San Raphael, California, based in London and New York, Christian Marclay (born 1955) first came to prominence in the underground music scenes of late 1970s Boston and New York, where he developed a unique mode of music and performance using altered vinyl records. Renowned as a seminal figure in the development of DJ culture and ‘turntablism,’ Marclay has subsequently developed a major international career spanning aural and visual collage and performance, sculptural objects, video and photography. His fascination with all aspects of popular recorded sound and cinema has led to sophisticated sampling and appropriation techniques in which obsolete cultural forms are given renewed life through new media.
The gallery will stay open overnight on Saturday 6 October, Saturday 3 November and Saturday 1 December to allow the 24-hour film to be experienced in full. The Clock is accompanied by a programme of talks and events exploring themes related to the work, as well as a newly commissioned podcast.