Christian Marclay Conquers Time

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Christian Marclay, The Clock, Edition of 6, Single channel video. Duration: 24 hours
Photos: Ben Westoby

As the holiday season approaches, and more particularly, the dawning of a new year, "time" (in its metaphorical glory and its more tangible manifest) weighs heavily on the mind. There aren't enough shopping days left until the holidays. There are too few hours in a day to attend all the obligatory parties. And, far more painful, another year has passed me by; how many more will there be?

We go about our lives, perpetually aware of time in a periphery way and yet never stopping to give it our complete focus. In the brilliant poem "Burnt Norton" (Four Quartets, 1943), my favorite poet T.S. Eliot wrote:

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

For his latest work, entitled The Clock, artist Christian Marclay has taken on the robust topic of time in an epic 24-hour film. Splicing together short clips from more than 3,000 movies, Marclay has created a disrupted narrative exploring the paradox of time by making it center stage -- the moment on the clock in the film corresponds with the precise moment in actual time (i.e. if your watch says 11:52am the time in the film is 11:52am). Time is simultaneously the star and an extra, protagonist and antagonist, the crescendo and the anti-climax, the narrative and an abstraction, the subject and the subtext - it's tangible and yet allusive.

A film about time sounds insufferably dull, but it's quite the opposite. For The Clock's inaugural screening, White Cube Mason's Yard opened its doors for 24 hours straight to allow visitors the opportunity to experience the entire film - or any "hours" of their choosing. A cinema was fashioned on the lower level of the gallery - replete with plush sofas situated before a gargantuan screen in a dark cavernous space.

Taking a seat, a clock appeared on the screen, 11:15am. A "doubting Thomas,' I checked my phone. And so it was, 11:15am. Enrapture set in immediately. I watched as the film rapidly transitioned from clip to clip, each reflecting the passage of time. 11:16 am ... 11:17 am ... 11:33 am ... 11:47 am. In the blink of an eye it was 12:15pm and the Titanic sailed to America with Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) leaping aboard. Overwhelmed, I leaned over to my dear friend and fellow art enthusiast Linda Fischbach and said, "This is brilliant." "'Absolutely brilliant," she agreed. At nearly the same moment, we both realized that an hour had passed and we were due to be somewhere. It seemed impossible -- how could we have spent the last hour literally fixated on time, and yet somehow lost track of time? Marclay had managed to capture the irreconcilable paradox of time, how painstakingly slow each second ticks by and yet the rapidity with which an hour, a day or a year has passed by. A few days later in an unrelated circumstance, artist Jeffrey Vallance unwittingly explained the phenomena I'd experienced, asserting "time is nonlinear. It is eternal and over in a millisecond."

The experience of the film stayed with me throughout the day, and I returned that night for the 8 o'clock hour, again in the early morning for the 2 o'clock hour, and yet again the following evening for the 5 o'clock hour. All told, I spent more than four hours in the basement of White Cube during those 24 hours, utterly transfixed by time. For the next several days, as I went about my daily life, I noticed clocks all around me that I, pardon the pun, scarcely gave the time of day before. I now looked at these with a renewed curiosity and interest, as one who has just returned from a long journey looks upon the mundane objects of their home. The film had altered my perception of time -- it was no longer a confine to describe my presence in a particular circumstance, but a continuum woven together by the spectacular moments of life.

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

-T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton" (The Four Quartets, 1943)

Christian Marclay's The Clock is on view at White Cube Mason's Yard until November 13, 2010. Before it closes, there will be three more continuous viewings:

From 10am on Thursday 28 October until 6pm on Saturday 30 October

From 10am on Thursday 4 November until 6pm on Saturday 6 November

From 10am on Thursday 11 November until 6pm on Saturday 13 November, when the exhibition closes