Christian Marclay

July 29, 2013

Christian Ernest Marclay plays with perception and human experience of sensory data. In his work, music can be both seen and heard. What is unique about this artist is his extraordinary ability to mix different media and various culture references into the rich fusion of qualities that synthesize in the original artistic experience. He works with sound, illustration, photography and video installation. His range of interest expands to more complex notions, and he was praised for his film The Clock where he extrapolated the experience of time, how time is felt and contemplated in the human mind. He synchronized time on the clocks and watches on the screen with real time where the film was beeing watched and managed to give the audience the visual experience of such an abstract notion as time. The artist loves to change the initial purpose and shape of the object, whether that is video, vinyl record or poster, so he could pull out the hidden meaning, or just emphasize the original one.

The artist mixes different media and various culture references

clock clock clock clock  2011  hour  2010 clock  2011  hour  2010 april  hours  exhibitions museum  montage april  hours  exhibitions museum  montage  Christian Marclay - Cartoonish Action Smak, Squish, Splsh No 2, photo credits Standard UK
Christian Marclay - Cartoonish Action Smak, Squish, Splsh No 2, photo credits Standard UK

Shaping the Avantgarde Spirit

Marclay was born in California and he grew up in Switzerland, where he attended the Ecole Supérieure d'Art Visuel in Geneva and later continued his education at the Massachusetts College of Art and Cooper Union in New York. During his student days, he started exploring noise music, neo-dada movement, and visual art. Some of the artists that inspired him are Joseph Beuys and Yoko Ono, and his journey into the visual and audio art was conceptual and philosophical since the very beginning. The social aspect was very important and it still is for this talented artist, as he tends to use accessible material and many used records which he buys in thrift shops. Resourceful and imaginative, Marclay got the idea of using mixed LP sound, played in a loop in a repetitive manner as a replacement for a missing drummer he never managed to recruit for his band. In his video installations, Christian Marclay combines collages, both visual and auditory, used record covers, illustration, and recordings. The sound is the essence of his creative production, and he spent almost half of his lifetime playing in bands, mixing , experimenting and developing innovative ways to transform the tone. Being a bit rebellious at heart, he never follows the instructions, so he plays records from the middle, switches beginnings and ends, breaks the harmony and brings out the noise. Even his onomatopoeic words are noisy. Some of them like splash, whoosh, swish, slutch, whupp break out the translation process and on the road from auditory to visual to meaning, the noise gets worse, or better, and everything melts down into the disorder and compound of sensory data.

For Marclay the records are just physical representation of music, whereas the true value is in the sound

clock  2011  gallery hours  museum  clock  2011  gallery hours  museum  Christian Marclay - 2282 Records, photo credits National Academy
Christian Marclay - 2282 Records, photo credits National Academy

Lost in Translation from Noise to Words

He found the best energy in the music and dance clubs 30 years ago, and nowadays the difference between those clubs and galleries is not that big. Pure art, without the ambition of being instantly commercial often reaches its peak in underground contemporary circles at the difficult economic times. People tend to experiment and be more resourceful. For Marclay things haven't changed much since he began his career. Always different and always daring, he managed to over cross all the boundaries and to show how differences in experience can bring the ideas together, not separate them away. Starting out as a musician in a band Mon Ton Son, he used the turntable as a sound object, where he would break the records and glue them back together, so the needle would play the noise when crossing the cracked and glued area. The result was unpleasant but at the same time quite engaging. He performed live, but didn't play any instrument. His intention was to develop a more personal relationship with the sound. If the record is a carrier of the sound, the musician is the creator, but once the song is recorded it loses its flexible characteristic. In order to interfere with the architecture of the sound, he was breaking records and playing them on turntables, and gluing them together. He did exactly the same thing with artwork. The collages were his favorite medium and they still are. Using found objects he shows how everything can have different meaning and different feeling, it is the artist who chooses what impression he wants to get from the medium. Trusting the process he does not worry too much about destroying the records and album covers. His only concern is the live performance and the ability to free the music from its preservation.

Body Mix collection, from 1992, features different album covers stitched together

Christian Marclay - Body Mix Series, 1992, photo credits Mantraycobertor
Christian Marclay - Body Mix Series, 1992, photo credits Mantraycobertor

Limitations and Expansions

His blend of perceptive information is not without sense and meaning, and what he does is deeply influenced by desire to show how human receptor system can be manipulated and changed, how we do not have to react every single time in the same way, out of the habit, that we can sink into what we see and hear and find a whole new way to enjoy the art. Noise is not what most people would listen to and relax, but it is what triggers people to think outside the box. Our vocabulary is very limited and words can never be thoughts, and with this pushing the envelope attitude Marclay expands our capabilities of comprehension. In his early days, in the 80's, he made the Recycled Records series where people could touch and see broken and reassembled vinyl records that played jumpy, repetitive, noisy and broken sound. Body Mix collection from 1992, features different album covers stitched together, so the Michal Jackson has been combined with a female body with one black and one white leg. The idea came from the mainstream fashion of record lovers who collect them and play them almost never, whereas Marclay plays them, destroys them, unpacks them, and even mixes the covers. He wanted to show how the vinyl record is just a physical item, and that it is just a carrier of the sound. Sincere music should not stay in the cardboard cover because sincere music can change the time, and feelings and leave the authentic impression. In his Video Quartet from 2002, he put together scenes from Hollywood films where actors play instruments and make music, and he created a 13-minute long audio-visual experience that shows how authentic music looks like.

The Clock is a 24-hour film made of 1 minute film scenes

The Clock

The Clock from 2010, was made over the period of three years and it took much-disciplined work, effort and dedication to put together scenes where people look at their watches, or where clocks show the time, and it is synched to the real time. It is a 24-hour film in which Marclay put together 1 minute long scenes, and when the clock shows time in the film, it also shows the exact time in the cinema. He won a Golden Lion at the 2011 Venice Biennale as the best artist for this film. His most recent works have the same energy, and the artist continues to mix music and illustration, sculpture and photography altogether. In his performances words pop out on the screen, musicians play music like they would usually do in the concert gallery, and the noise travels from ear lobes to the nervous system, transmitting the data and the energy. His films are always about time-base performances. When he makes films he finds short sequences that can be blended into the perfection with the ability to tell the honest story. When it comes to painting or some other form of art, the idea is to preserve the piece so it maintains its value. In Marclay's performances, there is no preservation, quite the opposite, it is about the destruction, about making little cracks in everything in order to let the quality and the energy get in.

Christian Marclay lives and works between London and New York.

All images used for illustrative purpose only © Christian Marclay

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