A sensation in London, Christian Marclay’s The Clock makes its New York debut this week in the artist’s eighth solo show at Paula Cooper Gallery. A 24-hour video, The Clock is a compilation of film clips featuring timepieces-culled from the 100-year history of cinema-that is synched with the actual time that viewers watch it.
Mr. Marclay is known for going beyond the standard art-world audience with pieces that employ sound and music. Earlier this year, the Whitney Museum of American Art held a Marclay Festival, lauding the artist as a “pioneer of turntablism,” holding daily performances and employing musicians to perform some of his scores. Visitors were also invited to add, on a chalkboard, their own notes. Among his most famous and popular pieces is Sounds of Christmas, conceived in 1999, but staged in a different city every holiday since. It features events organized around Marclay’s 1,200-strong collection of Christmas albums.
In the case of The Clock, crowds lined up at London’s White Cube to view it and camped out overnight to soak it up on sofas during several complete screenings. The BBC called it “a visual narcotic,” the Financial Times “magnificent” and The Telegraph a “stand-out, knock-down hit.”
Readying for daily screenings of his new-media artwork during gallery hours, along with five 24-hour presentations Friday through Saturday during the run of the show (Jan. 21-Feb. 19), Mr. Marclay recently spoke with The Observer.
The Observer: How did The Clock come about?
Christian Marclay: I’ve been thinking about this piece since 2005. I started collecting clocks from films and thinking it might be possible to find every minute of the day throughout the history of cinema. It actually took me a year of searching and editing until I felt certain it was possible.
Were there parts that were harder to find?
Oh, yeah. Not much happens between 5 and 5:30 a.m., at least in the movies. But that’s the time when we dream the most. So I used a lot of dream sequences. I had assistants that were watching films and collecting the material. … They had the best job in the world, sitting at home, watching movies and grabbing excerpts that had references to time.
Why is time an important subject to you?
Time is at the center of everything we do. As much as it is an artificial construct-in some ways it’s pretty abstract-it is a reality that we all synch to, and we conduct our lives to that rhythm.
What role does time play in cinema?
In cinema, it’s completely artificial. You could be watching a hundred years of history, or someone’s whole life in a two-hour movie. Time is stretched and condensed, depending on what’s needed to tell the story. The difference in my video is that everything happens in real time.
What period of time do the films that you use span?
It spans the whole history of cinema, from early silent films to contemporary Hollywood productions.
Has anyone other than you seen the whole video?
Some people have, but not in one sitting. The 24-hour screenings are really important to the piece. … One guy even showed up in his pajamas, but it’s not necessarily meant to be seen in one sitting. It’s an ambient piece, like a clock-it’s always there, ticking.
How do you think it will stand the test of time?
[Laughs] I don’t know. More than ever, we are aware of the time, every device we have is telling us exactly what time it is, the TV, the phone, the car or the computer. That, in itself, is a new experience. But this video is not so practical; it’s in between a functional device and entertainment. You’re being entertained, while at the same time you are constantly reminded about the time going by. It’s a very philosophical piece.