March 2012

Arts & Letters

'The Clock' by Christian Marclay

By Luke Davies

The Clock’s joys are as delightful as they are improbable. Though it’s usually described as a video installation, I prefer to think of it as a majestic, circular film (it is exactly 24 hours long). It demands of its viewers their stamina, repaying them with a singularly interesting experience. Christian Marclay, who surely harnessed some rather obsessive–compulsive tendencies in constructing this remarkable piece, did the hard work. For the audience, all that remains is to let The Clock wash over us: its seconds becoming minutes becoming a cascade of hours.

Marclay – and, apparently, any number of bleary-eyed assistants – sifted through thousands of films, retaining any clips in which a clock or watch face can be seen. From this body of eligible ‘moments’ he built the work, a kind of hallucinatory anti-narrative that not only unfolds in real time but is synchronised to real time. If there’s a scene in which an actor looks at a watch which reads 4.27, then you know that it’s exactly 4.27 outside in the real world. Every minute you’ll see at least one clock or watch but sometimes you’ll see up to four or five, sourced from several different films. At times Marclay’s obsessive finessings extend even as far as the second hand, gliding on a watch face, never out of sequence: in Marclay’s world, time moves relentlessly forward – or rather, around. 

The result of all this is quite bizarre. If good film allows us to become lost in a timeless space, The Clock does the opposite. Theoretically, you’re never fully immersed in the work, since at any moment you are made aware, literally to the second, of what time it is outside. The piece simultaneously puts you in the world and takes you away. Playing out like a Dadaist thriller, it creates a kind of deliciously heightened anxiety about the passage of time as it celebrates the glory of cinema. You actually feel time sliding like the hand of
a clock.

If you’re a cinephile, you get to play guessing games about the origin of certain clips – from Hollywood blockbusters through to the obscurest of European indies, ranging over 70 years of cinema history (though the clips tend to skew towards the last 30 or 40 years). You might also delight in the way one clip rubs up against the next, creating a kind of found poetry and surprising collisions. The cumulative effect becomes trance-like; the numbers, seen over and over in endless combinations, almost abstract. The more you see, the more awash you will be with pleasure. As Alec Guinness, dressed in a ship captain’s uniform, says in one fragment (from The Captain’s Paradise): “Everything … is very gratifyingly okay.”

Luke Davies

Luke Davies is a novelist, screenplay writer and poet. He is the author of Candy, God of Speed, Totem (the winner of the Age Book of the Year in 2004) and Interferon Psalms (winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2012). 

'The Clock' by Christian Marclay, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 29 March to 3 June 2012
Cover: March 2012

March 2012

From the front page

Hard-pressed

The government appears to be dragging its heels on media law reform

Photograph of Harold Bloom

Canon salute

Remembering Harold Bloom (July 11, 1930 – October 14, 2019)

The NBN-ding story

New developments in the interminable debate over broadband in Australia

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age


In This Issue

Quarterly Essay 45, 'Us and Them: On the Importance of Animals', by Anna Krien, Black Inc., 125pp; $19.95

Us and Them: On the Importance of Animals

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

George Lazenby & Cubby Broccoli

Lachlan Murdoch prepares to see his father, London, July 2011. © Paul Hackett/Reuters

The Reluctant Son

Lachlan Murdoch and News Corp

Billionaire activists: Clive Palmer, Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart. © Philip Norrish/Newspix; Greg Wood/AAP; Tony McDonough/AAP

The 0.01 Per Cent: The Rising Influence of Vested Interests in Australia


More in Noted

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age

‘Act og Grace’ cover

‘Act of Grace’ by Anna Krien

The journalist’s propulsive debut novel tackles the aftermath of the Iraq War

‘Here Until August’

‘Here Until August’ by Josephine Rowe

The Australian author’s second short-story collection focuses on the precipice of change rather than its culmination

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‘The Godmother’ by Hannelore Cayre

A sardonic French bestseller about a godmother, in the organised crime sense of the word


Read on

Photograph of Harold Bloom

Canon salute

Remembering Harold Bloom (July 11, 1930 – October 14, 2019)

Image from ‘Judy’

Clang, clang, clang: ‘Judy’

The Judy Garland biopic confuses humiliation for homage

Image of Joel Fitzgibbon and Anthony Albanese

Climate of blame

Labor runs the risk of putting expediency over principle

Afterwards, nothing is the same: Shirley Hazzard

On the splendour of the acclaimed author’s distinctly antipodean seeing


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