For this edition of Fan Mail, the Masur Museum of Monroe, Louisiana has been selected from our worthy reader submissions. Two artists are featured each month—the next one could be you! If you would like to be considered, please submit your website link to email@example.com with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line.
For the upcoming exhibition Computer Aided, the Masur Museum is showing works by the artists Keliy Anderson-Staley (AR), Joshua Chambers (LA), Harold Cohen (CA), Craig Damrauer (LA), Hasan Elahi (MD), Jenny Holzer (NY), John Rodriguez (LA), Marni Shindelman & Nate Larson (GA & MD), Jes Schrom & Graham Simpson (LA), and Kate Shannon (OH), in addition to short video loops from well-known artists Mat Collishaw (UK), Damien Hirst (UK), Shepard Fairey (LA), Jenny Holzer (NY), and Bill Viola (CA), purchased online.
Computer Aided takes a hard look at hierarchy in contemporary art, considering the Masur Museum’s own position as a small institution in upstate Lousiana. By purchasing videos from s[edition], a company founded two years ago to sell limited-edition digital art, the Masur can exhibit these famed contemporary artists “who are otherwise beyond the Mansur’s means,” says curator Benjamin Hickey.
Since the works have been translated to a new kind of art object to be displayed on the screen and bought online, meaning is inevitably altered. Viewing these fabrications or reductions of esteemed visionaries is strange, as is the case with Hirst, Fairey, and Viola. Holzer and Collishaw seem better suited to this format: Holzer’s slogans move across the screen and feel like the kind of art that makes sense to be distributed as a digital file; Collishaw’s Whispering Weeds (a recreation of Albrecht Durer’s Great Piece of Turf, a watercolor from 1503) is beautiful and loops perfectly.
Bill Viola’s video A Phrase from “Chris”, part of his Transfiguration series, is so short that it feels incomplete and its transcendent power is stripped away. Hickey says the “Viola['s] work here is like the title, a phrase. You get what you pay for, [a] very short excerpt.” In this case, the art has been reduced to a repetitive backwards loop.
S[edition] wants to tap into an unexploited market of consumers with limited funds for art collecting. This is not a new idea—it seems like the same kind of thing as selling cards and magnets in museum gift shops. The word seditionis worth defining here—”the stirring up of rebellion against the government in power.” Hickey notes “It is no mistake that s[edition] puns on the word sedition, because it circumvents traditional critical outlets and brings a segment of the current art historical canon out of its ivory tower to be critically appraised.” S[edition] seems to challenge the existing gallery hierarchy, but I imagine people buying these art pieces primarily as screen savers.
The limited edition digital art reminds me of illusory Wall Street financial products, created by imaginative use of contracts and paperwork. S[edition] has strict rules for owning and exhibiting purchased art. “All s[edition] art must be streamed online. This is one way for the site to monitor the dissemination of its content and make it less likely to be distributed or purchased outside of its purview.” Most other kinds of media allow you to use the media while offline, and S[edition]‘s Frequently Asked Questions section notes, “Moving images or videos are not currently available to download…Free s[edition] apps to support offline video viewing will be added soon.” And like the recent lessons of Wall Street, these works raise many questions: what ensures that this art will hold its value? What happens if s[edition] fails?
Hickey describes how the s[edition] videos will be shown: “All of the purchased pieces will loop endlessly while on view in the exhibition. The five s[edition] artists will be displayed together in one of the two main galleries to illustrate the hierarchy concept of the show. Viola and Hirst will play on ceiling mounted projectors. Holzer, Collishaw, and Fairey will be shown on tv pedestals. Hickey says “In the bottom of the pedestals you will be able to see the laptop playing the video. The non-s[edition] artists will have larger installations of their work in the three galleries on the second floor above the main galleries.”
Hickey selected artworks that utilize mass-market electronic technology, so that “museum visitors can take stock of newer art forms as well as evaluate technology’s potential impact on culture in broad terms.” Bringing together ”a variety of artists at different points in their careers” emphasizes the non-heirarchical approach to curating a show that the internet allows.
Computed Aided is on view at the Masur Museum from June 26 through October 5, 2013.
Chun Kwang Young’s Assemblage at Art Plural Gallery is a series of three-dimensional sculptural works wrapped with Korean mulberry paper and assembled within the two-dimensional frame of a canvas. Taking the ubiquitous use of the mulberry paper in Korea—also known as hanji—as a material point of reference, the Assemblage series explores a desolate landscape of depressions, protrusions and coloured spots, all of which seem to reference abstract painting’s visual language of prioritising internal form over pictorial representation.
Up close, the careful triangle arrangement that is an accumulation of basic units of information yields an uncompromising, ravaged topography that rises and falls within the canvas. In some Aggregates, waves of tightly-packed, forward-leaning triangles pushes uncomfortably against an opposing tide of edges then dip under the onslaught of sunken projectiles and circular masses. In others, the surfaces resemble natural rock formations, showing no particular form. Put together, Chun’s surfaces are abstract, quasi-sculptural spaces in continuous flux or crisis, with the broad, expansive swaths of colour reminiscent of Helen Frankenthaler and the gradients of Jules Olitski—a composite style that is the result of his efforts at reconciling two seeming opposing worldviews: the conservative values of a Korean upbringing and the overwhelmingly secular and material world with which he came into contact when he relocated to Philadelphia to earn his graduate degree in the Fine Arts in the 1970s.
The mulberry paper is a site on which these opposing forces meet, a malleable, durable agent that was once commonplace in traditional Korean life. In the Korea of yesteryears, hanji was glued onto doorways as an insulating material; at the same time it was used for wrapping food to keep it from decay; as writing paper, it was used to print journals, registries and books. In the Aggregation series, hanji forms the basis of Chun’s individual units, a symbolic statement of the strength of Korean tradition, yet the accumulative result of these units put together is an undulating landscape of forms that seems to play out the Western aesthetic of abstract painting.
But Chun’s brand of conceptualism is not just a series of colliding shapes wrapped in paper that embodies the Korean experience; they are inherently textual and perhaps derive their greatest power from the deconstructive impulse that is presented in the way the Korean and Chinese characters bend and twist on each polystyrene triangle. Apart from the strong nostalgic element contained within the mulberry triangles, the hanji that Chun appropriates is taken from various literary sources, and while the black print provides an additional planning effect to cast the entire canvas in three-dimensional shading, they also call attention to the embedded but splintered narratives that defy any attempt at contextualisation.
Chun Kwang Young: Assemblage will be on view at Art Plural Gallery through July 27, 2013.
Today From the DS Archives we bring you a piece written by Catherine Wagley from her L.A. Expanded column, which was published between 2010-2012. Like many great pieces suitable for a Sunday read (and like most all from her column) Fandom collages recognizable subjects, like the relationship between Tennessee Williams and Elizabeth Taylor, with new artists, like Justin Lowe. This article was originally published on July 6, 2012 by Catherine Wagley.
L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley
It makes a weird kind of sense that Elizabeth Taylor, who managed to move from sweetheart to sexpot to scandal then back to sweetheart more gracefully than any actress on record, would die the week of Tennessee Williams’ centennial. The playwright, not unlike the actress, had a remarkable knack for being glamorous and tawdry, Pulitzer-worthy and tabloid-ready at the same time. The two even followed one another’s trajectories—or, more likely, helped shape one another’s trajectories.
Williams would complete Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1954, debut it on Broadway in 1955 and win his second Pulitzer for it just as Taylor was preparing for Giant, her first truly memorable film as a grown-up. Then, in 1957, Taylor would sign on to star in the film version of Cat and, in ’58, snag an Academy Award nomination for her beautifully bitchy turn as Maggie. A year later, she’d receive another nomination for another Williams’ role: as the more tender Catherine who’s trying her darndest not to be lobotomized in Suddenly, Last Summer, the screen adaptation of which (Gore Vidal helped write it) cloaked all reference to homosexuality in an eerie haze.
If they flourished together, Williams and Taylor floundered together too. A decade after Suddenly, Taylor, addicted to pain killers and prone to illness, had lost five husbands and was four years into her first of two taboo-soaked marriages to Richard Burton; Williams was five years into a dark depression. The two teamed up again, but this time for a project critics savaged. In Boom!, Taylor plays an ailing husband killer who lives on her very own island, while Burton acts a stranded mystery man and Noel Coward appears as the psychic “Witch of Capri.” The footage feels like something out of a dystopian romance novel and John Waters called it “one of the most gloriously failed art films ever.” In 1989, five years after Williams’ too-early death and the same year Taylor checked out of the Betty Ford Clinic for the second time, the actress played a sinking screen siren in a made-for-TV rendition of Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth.
“She’s the opposite of her public image,” Williams said of Taylor two years before his death. “She’s not a bitch, even though her life has been a very hell. . . . Pain and pain. She’s so delicate, fragile really.”
“I adored Tennessee,” Taylor said of Williams. “He was hopelessly naive, however.”
The Tennessee whose bust was on a chocolate cake at Skylight Books in Los Feliz last Sunday did not look naïve. He looked dapper and slyly omniscient. In celebration of what would have been the playwright’s 100th birthday, Skylight staged an afternoon of readings that ended with playwright Chris Phillips’ tribute, Garden District, set to debut at Celebration Theater in May. Like the best of devoted, obsessive fans, Phillips has trolled through Williams and unpacked the stories behind the stories, fixating on the three gay men whose deaths spur the plots of Williams’ most iconic plays: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly, Last Summer and Streetcar Named Desire. The scene read on Sunday was between Maggie—Taylor’s role, here played by redhead Karah Donovan with an inebriating Southern drawl—and Skipper, the best friend of Maggie’s husband Brick; Maggie eggs Skipper into admitting he’s been in love with Brick.
The play, in its entirety, will likely be charming—Phillips channels Williams-esque verve with a precision that must be difficult to come by. Still, the project feels a bit like teenage love, the sort that makes you believe saying what your object of desire has left unsaid is equivalent to intimacy.
The Williams centennial reminded me of a different kind of precise and obsessive fandom: the kind at play in Justin Lowe’s frayed collages, currently on view in his exhibition Hair of the Dog at Pepin Moore. Small, smartly assembled, and all culled from trade paperbacks of the ’60s and ’70s, the collages recalls Boom! with their surreal aesthetic and borderline vulgar romanticism. Instead of unpacking and exposing, Lowe has allowed the mystery of his already-strange sources to swell. The psychedelic is compounded by the exotic, the criminal tied up with the sacred, the primitive paired with the polemical and the hopeful with the fatal, until trashy paperbacks feel as weighty and terrifying as Lord of the Flies. Reverence for the mystique of what you’ve immersed yourself in: that’s a fandom with cavernous possibilities.
One of Lowe’s images strikes me as particularly inspired. It starts on the left with a dinosaur gazing at a haggard cross–a confluence of eons of real and imagined time–and ends with on the right with a man furtively disappearing into a dark city. It makes mortality feel like a slippery, sci-fi crime novel. It also reminds me of this, an experience Tennessee Williams described in the Paris Review: “I do think there was a night when I nearly died, or possibly did die. I had a strange, mystical feeling, as if I were seeing a golden light.” He added, “Elizabeth Taylor had the same experience.” It sounds as pulpy as a paperback (he saw a golden light?), but Williams, Taylor and, it seems, Lowe, all prove that pulp has an unmatchable potential for veracity.
Courtesy of the arts blog Hyperallergic, today we bring you the artwork of William Powhida. You have just a few more hours to catch his solo show “Bill by Bill” at Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles. If you’re in the area you should definitely make the effort to go: the work is sharp and funny and outspoken in a way that’s rarely seen in a commercial gallery. This review was written by Carolina A. Miranda and originally published on May 21, 2013. You can also check out Daily Serving’s interview with Powhida from last fall and the PDF catalog of “Bill by Bill.”
When Marcel Duchamp submitted his signed urinal to a group exhibition in 1917, he certainly couldn’t have predicted that his decontextualized toilet would represent the dawn of an era in which everything and anything could be “art.” Take some mundane object or action, add word salad — et voilà, you have art. Manipulated photographs aren’t simply manipulated photographs. They are “visual statements that are at once documentary and fictional.”
A painter’s brush strokes don’t come together to form a picture, are textures that “function as proof of past operations.” And a piece of taxidermy isn’t just a stuffed animal. It’s “a state of apparent life premised on actual death.” In the Bermuda Triangle of Art, an object is never an object. It’s a physical vessel with which to deliver heaps of impenetrable prose — prose intended to convince some aspiring patron that the mound of detritus before him is pregnant with meaning (in addition to looking great over the couch).
There is no doubt that “the relevance of physical books in our culture is diminishing” according to curator Karen Ann Meyers. Rebound, presented by the College of Charleston‘s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, shows five artists who use books to create sculpture. Books provide a mass of free material for these artists. Encyclopedia sets were once functional objects from a different time and culture. These discarded books are given new life.
When I attended the artist’s tour, the five spoke of the narratives of their texts, the translation of the symbolic language to sculpture and image, and compressing the narrative. A book’s structure can be compared to snakes, a river, a labyrinth. These artists break the temporal and spatial barriers of the linear text.
Guy Laramee‘s lush valleys sparkle as we assume the aerial viewpoint looking over verdant landscapes. Within an unreadable text, a cave glitters as though looking into a geode. I imagine mountainous islands, the kind of primitive area imagined in stories of the south seas and exploration of new lands.
Guy Laramee was born and lives in Montreal. He says, “I still have a hard time considering myself a book artist” because it’s only a portion of his work—he was first a composer then went back to school at 40. “I had the idea of putting a book in the sandblaster.” He dug holes in the books and coated them with shining pigmented ink. When he spoke of his art, he told the story of a people, “after the fall of the Great Wall of America, they find stories of their own culture.” He invents stories to make meaning for these works, so that his projects have purpose, and to delve into the unknown. He names his “Caverna” after Saramago’s latest book and refers to Plato’s allegory. “One gains true knowledge through erosion, not accretion,” the catalog says.
Long Bin Chin says, “I create another space for the book.” He has carved many heads of warriors and Renaissance men. Here are fantasy artifacts, looking like carved stone with sedimentary layers. A little color has been painted on, dusting the faces like makeup.
Not pictured here is a pile of books on a shelf. Within his dioramas, he gives us fantasy worlds, the kind of thing we hope to enter when we read a book. In a pile of books on a shelf, Chin has made a tiny series of stages within the books, amplified by a peep hole. He says they are maybe nonsense or maybe a reaction to the title. These little figures remind me of one of Duchamp’s later pieces, installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Étant donnés. When looking through the peep hole, you see an erotic scene, bizarre with its flowing waterfall and pastured grounds. Within Chin’s carved book “The Scalpel and the Sword,” a woman lies naked on the floor, maybe dead in the middle of the room hung with images of Christ and two women. Two women stand over looking at the figure, whose hand lies across her chest. “On the Outskirts of Hope” shows a big Mickey Mouse and a soldier, both with articulating gestures. I recalled reading one of the last chapters in Errol Morris’s collection of essays, Believing is Seeing. Chapter 5 describes controversy over the placement of a Mickey Mouse doll and other children’s toys in Lebanon warzones.
Brian Dettmer was born in Chicago and lives in Atlanta. His postcard rack of books shows modernity overlapping. He began making art as a painter, loving its tactile qualities, and exploring the “difference between art and communication.” Some say, “art is a universal language,” but “nothing is universal” he says. “I was feeling really guilty about ripping up books,” but “I continued to carve—it was literally like reading, going one layer at a time.” It’s a collage, a sculpture, and like a painting. His characters come alive from the pages, lines thickened in 3D.
Dettmer spoke about how “we are losing access to having our files on our computer” because of cloud storage. Our data is vulnerable and there is a “threat of loss” with our modern digital technology. These books, on the other hand, are obsolete. He says his “Standard American” is a “multicellular landscape” and an homage to Duchamp’s urinal. He is “breaking out of that box…that Joseph Cornell type box.” “I peel back the cover and seal the edges.” “The book is a machine.” “These little fragments break apart a story.” He references a totem pole and the labyrinth of Borges’ library.
Francesca Pastine, from New York to San Francisco, says “I tend to take my time with my work. I like time-intensive activity.” She came of age in the 70s and was exposed to Civil Rights, the Women’s Movement, and the Vietnam War. In 2005, she started using Art Forum because her “friends had a tremendous amount of Art Forum magazines in their houses and no one wanted to throw them away.” She describes her process: “I take my inspiration from the cover and use a #11 exacto knife to make a topography.” Using the thick glossy packet of icons, dripping with gravity, Francesca says she is “manipulating cultural production” in order to “manipulate something that supposed to be manipulating me.”
Doug Beube was born in Ontario, lives in New York and works as a carpenter. His background is in photography where he modeled himself after Diane Arbus. His “sensibility as a photographer is to collapse space then expand it in the imagination.” He’s fascinated with a sense of the “other” and transforms obvious objects into something very sensuous, “like a body.” He created a “tract” on the floor of the gallery, a path, but don’t walk on it. Made from 50 romance and mystery novels, it shows a sequence of cut layers, like the narrative, a single forward moving line but seen at once. He tells us that it resembles a sine wave and also the GI tract of a human body. The work is like a “hyperlink” allowing us to move between temporal states.
He used a paper guillotine for the sliced works. For his maps, he used a belt sander to erode the paper. They are layered, looking moth eaten. His disaster series looks like birds. He calls them twisters. It reminds me of seeing body builders who rip phone books in half on tv.
All of these works are subtractive; they carve away the book pages. They also stack and reconnect the cut pieces, so they amalgamate edited parts too. Sometimes editing brings together the most poignant content of the book, and for others, new narratives are created. Rebound is on exhibition until July 6th in Charleston, SC. This project is sponsored by Bibliolabs and supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into representation.
—Guy Dubord, Society of the Spectacle, 1967
The Bay Area is the social media capital of the world; with headquarters for Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it is no surprise that everywhere you go, people are on their cell phones. The subsequent inundation of digital and virtual media creates a state in which the real world is increasingly less necessary. We are constantly connected not through corporal interactions but through uploading and downloading of information. The result of is an ever-expanding chain of posts and reposts that increasingly disconnects us from the original idea. Simultaneously appropriating, diffusing and layering, we create a state in which we can live vicariously through the representations of others’ experiences. The current exhibition “Low Subject” at The Popular Workshop and the inaugural exhibition “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” at Et al. bring together a group of artists whose works challenge the notions of what we understand to be authentic, and how we process the current bombardment of visual information. While the two exhibitions are not intentionally connected, the relationships between the works in each show and between the two galleries demonstrate a local investigation of contemporary issues that is proving to be more than the sum of its parts.
“Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” could not be a more perfect title for the experience of viewing Et al.’s debut exhibition. Taken from a Pink Floyd song, it sets the stage for the wonderfully strange and pedantic gallery visit. Occupying a basement-level room behind a dry cleaning business, Et al. covers the walls with a surprising number of artists while maintaining enough space for each work to be appreciated. Featuring works by Kate Bonner, Andrew Chapman, Anthony Discenza, Aaron Finnish, Chris Hood, and Cybele Lyle, the overall aesthetic of the installation is chromatically minimal, which helps to keep the room from feeling cluttered. In a continuation of the exhibition title, the works are all deliciously anti-cathartic. What we see is a biopsy from a larger narrative that the artists never full reveal. Instead the works confront the viewer with tension and aura, encouraging the consideration of the exhibition as a whole.
CHROMA III (10MB data), Aaron Finnis’s tall wooden rectangle painted with dizzying, thin stripes leans on one wall. With a hole where a knob could go, the object is at first recognizable as an incomplete door. To further demonstrate its absolute uselessness, behind the door is a wall, so even if it were complete with handle and hinges it would lead to a dead end. Any potential “doorness” of the object deteriorates in CHROMA IV (10MB data), the sister piece across the gallery, which lacks even a hole for a doorknob. Facing Finnis’s impassable door and mirroring its graphically buzzing lines, Anthony Discenza’s lightbox, The Woodcut, glows with white serif text on a black background. The combination of the text and what it describes negate all that is typically featured in a light box. Devoid of sensational or commercial pictures, Discenza paints a scene of revulsion and confusion in a deadpan, matter of fact tone.
What seems like a reprieve from the ominous aura of the other works, Chris Hood’s paintings Line of Sight and Floater, feature some of social media’s favorite subjects: puppies, kittens and food, but all obfuscated by a haze of white wash. Instead of being sweet or even twee the works look like a child’s drawing forgotten after years of neglect. The playfully dark mood of Hood’s paintings continues into Black bone on cast iron plinth with enamel, Andrew Chapman’s small wall-mounted ceramic squiggles that protrude from the wall as if some of the molecules got confused and broke away. Almost too perfectly matched with the gallery’s electrical wiring above the sculptures, the pieces hold a lingering sense of familiarity. Chapman’s accompanying two-dimensional diptych contrasts the evidence of a corporal interaction with strictly inhumane aesthetics. ½ WIOH, a Rorschach-esque smear hangs next to 50/50 OMWY which looks like visuals generated by computer errors. The titles of the works give the impression of being abbreviations, yet their meaning is never revealed in a gesture that alienates the viewer from the understanding the privileged knowledge.
Kate Bonner’s inclusion in both exhibitions links the galleries and alludes to an investigation of the anti-/meta-representational appearing in contemporary art. Her pieces at Et al. tumble off the wall and stand crumpled on the floor. At The Popular Workshop, the sculptures, reminiscent of jammed paper ripped out of a copy machine, almost entirely obscure the images represented. Bonner’s multiple shifts between two and three dimensional states through her transitions between photography and sculpture transcend to a headache-inducing level in David Bayus’s paintings. Through a process of building maquettes, photographing, printing, and meticulous painting, Bayus blurs the boundaries between the actual and representational. What appears to be computer-generated imagery is in fact the opposite: the smooth, unnatural surfaces are the product of tedious hand rendering in oil paint. The works combine virtualized imagery with traditional techniques to render subject matter that has recognizable aspects, but are too bizarre to exist beyond the canvas.
In a visual mash-up of kitschy materials, Nico Krijno’s photographs are a schizophrenic celebration of color, texture, and depth. The fabricated still lives range from Untitled, which looks like a cage stuffed with every bit of gaudy fabric the artist could find, to The Old Pope, a golden disco mess of shiny wrapping paper and bizarre, finger-like shapes snaking out at all the wrong angles.
The works in both exhibitions depart from the historical desire for definitions rooted in the real world. They utilize the absurdist over-population of images in consumer society in combination with a rejection of expectations to puckishly deny their audiences a clear understanding. Viewers will not leave the exhibitions feeling warm, fuzzy, or cathartic. The challenge presented to contemporary artists is not to simply exist, but to create something out of the haze of uncertainty, to embrace bizarre fracturing of cultures and media in such a way that brings our understanding of the world into question.
Everyone I know who saw Christian Marclay’s Clock raved about it. The 24-hour sequence of film clips, most with a view of a clock face, is more action-packed than I’d imagined it would be. The focus is as much on the events surrounding the passage of time as on the instruments we use to measure that passage. In this way, The Clock isn’t about clocks at all, and often is only circumstantially related to temporality. What it’s really about is film technology, the nature of story telling, nostalgia, and the absurdity of life.
First things first: you don’t need to watch all 24 hours. I say this with the arrogance of someone who saw only two hours; and I say it even though I am constitutionally drawn to finishing things I begin, even though I believe there is a qualitative difference between doing something for a little time and doing that same thing for a long time. I recognize the irrationality of my confidence in grasping Marclay’s epic after experiencing only 8 percent of it. It is also true that some people insist that one period of Clock watching—10:00 am to noon, for instance—is qualitatively different from another—4:00 to 5:30 pm; or 1:00 to 2:00 am. Such natural enthusiams are proof of Marclay’s achievement, even if they are tinged, perhaps, with nostalgia; that is, influenced by the memories and narratives we fabricate as a fortress against the passage of time. But there is a way in which every period—whether period equals segment formed from connected scenes, hour, or length of time I sat in the theater—is always the same.
Everyone admires Marclay’s craft. He strings together thousands and thousands of moments from cinematic history, transforming fragments into a whole or, more precisely—since few witness the complete opus—into a series of “scenes” that somehow tell a story none of them originally set out to tell. He invites the sound from one fragment to extend seamlessly into the soundscape of the next. He conjures such segues with images as well, fading not into a double exposure, at least not during my two hours—11:15 am to 1:15 pm—but into a double exposure of associations. (And he goes beyond film editing techniques such as shot-countershot to produce this illusion of continuity from one fragment to the next.) Buttressing the whole composition is the beat, beat, beat of the clock—digital, analog, mechanical (even a sundial!)—whose relentless tick-tock presence comprises not only a visual metronome but also the false sense that we are experiencing the passage of time as linear, as complete, as fully accounted for. What a delightful fictional device! On its face, the clocks prove that time exists; beneath this facade, the seconds don’t add up, revealing the artificiality of the whole overlay of minutes and hours.
But mostly what Marclay achieves is a continuous recollection not of films we remember having seen—although there is plenty of that—but of films that we feel we’ve seen, even though we haven’t, as if the whole history of film comprised our collective (sub)consciousness. You and I are there. It appears to be no accident that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art gallery in which The Clock plays through June 2 is a darkened theater, evoking something of what I imagine as the hushed, almost religious, original cinema experience. The ritual begins outside the sanctuary. Here, I experience a different sort of time. That’s part of the Clock experience too, the period of waiting. People wait for hours. Many will wait longer than I will have watched (the price of redemption, I guess). Eventually, I am called and guided by one of the two ushers ministering the sanctum to one of the pre-seating, standing-room places at the back of the theater. I hug the wall for 30 minutes with a dozen other initiates. Before us spreads not only the screen but also the heads of visitors silhouetted against grainy film clips. Finally, having withstood these trials of endurance, I am called for a second time. I shiver as I follow the darkened profile of my usher down one of the two aisles, past row after row of three-seat couches, toward the promise of the epiphany.
Despite the revelations of The Clock, I do not rave about it the way my friends have. I rave about it differently. I amnever bored, just clear that one time could pass for another. And that, dear readers, is the point. Even if 11:15 to 1:15 would be your favorite of all Marclay time periods—it certainly is mine!—eventually, I predict, you would feel a saturation, an unsettled sensation that you’ve had enough. But there is no relief, because then, compulsion forces you to continue on and on and on. Because, well, you might miss something.
Isn’t this what life is, a sequence of such promises? We stay and stay and stay in order to satisfy the desire to see what will happen next. I can’t know anything about this string of unrelated events—orphaned from the parent-films in whose embrace they had meaning and then adopted almost arbitrarily—because, even as I stand in awe of Marclay’s choices and craft, I know there are thousands of other as-good choices the artist might have fostered instead.
One tick after another, The Clock proclaims, “Life is arbitrary.” Unrelated events will accrete into meaning, because we are meaning-making machines willing to mold meaning out of anything. The Clock is a film that Camus could love as Sisyphus had to love his labor, love it like a rock. This explains why The Clock is both a testament to our devotion to movie trailers—90 percent of the time, the preview is better than the film, right?—and a refutation of them. Marclay’s epic cannot, itself, be trailerized. Don’t leave, don’t even blink: you will miss something.
Rob Marks writes about the nature of the aesthetic experience and its effect on self and society. He has graduate degrees in visual and critical studies and journalism, and is a frequent contributor to DailyServing.