The Persistence of Time: The Clock at Tate Modern


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Speaking first and foremost from the perspective of a self-confessed creature of habit, admittedly, a significant portion of my weekly routine teeters on the obsessive.

So, naturally I’m left dispirited and fervently perturbed whenever I attempt to tally up the total hourly sum of time spent in movie theatres and cinemas watching films. Being that I’ve probably watched on average about 2-5 movies a week for the best part of two decades, the number is a stark figure that I’d sooner prefer to turn a blind eye to. 

But, film as we all know is a master manipulator of time. It takes us back to previous periods; or it propels us headlong into the future. It reassembles epics and whole life stories, and presents them to us in under 2 hours, including credits. For the most part, while we as an audience surrender to the action on screen, the hands of the clock seem to seize up, and slow to a grinding halt… momentarily suspended, until we climb our way back out into the natural light of the real world, and back to the ho-hum of our ordinary lives.

Time, on the other hand, has never been more prevalent than in Christian Marclay’s visual installation The Clock; now screening at Tate Modern until January 2019. A 24-hour visual extravaganza, Marclay’s ambitious project is indeed no small feat. Five years in the making, the fictional world of The Clock has been synced to align with the real time of our world; and projected to the public in daily screenings. It’s a painstakingly pleasurable gallimaufry of images; trawled from a century of film and television clips, re-cut and pasted together to mimic the punctuality of the timepiece.

A pioneer of early sound collages and audio experimentation, Marclay has been described as the ‘unwitting inventor of turntablism…’

But, there is so much more for the viewer to take away from The Clock than simply a bunch of interspersed images of actors checking their wristwatch, or glancing at the clock on the wall, for instance.

Marclay’s piece encompasses a plethora of genres, periods, moods and settings. So much so that the narrative seesaws with thematic nuances of varied pacing. Inverting and upending the original scenes, until the end result is a new piece altogether. Rewarding it’s audience with an alternate, divergent narrative.

‘You might say that whilst film has been a vessel to help one escape time; The Clock, on the other hand serves as a ticking reminder of it’s ever-persistent omnipresence…’

And it’s the way that these juxtaposed sounds and images are spliced together that makes Marclay’s work so quick-witted and clever. A lonely tenant listens to the recorded message of a telephone operator reciting the time… a dramatic scene ensues, whereas three chimes from the bell tower are faintly audible in the distance… a band of outlaws anxiously await the 3:10 train to Yuma… Agent Dale Cooper recites the current time to his dictaphone. There are scenes where characters are arguing over time, correcting others of time, or warning those involved of time remaining.

(L-R) Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young and Orson Welles in ‘The Stranger’ (1946)

So too are there generous helpings of famous scenes- now synonymous with film history, peppered throughout, to amuse the film buff or cinephile. This includes Harold Lloyd’s death-defying stunt, hanging from a clock in the 1923 film Safety Last; or the climatic end sequence to Orson Welles’ 1946 film The Stranger.

In fact, in just a 2-hr period I noted a myriad of notable actors; with excerpts from such classic films as This Gun For Hire, Great Expectations, Raging Bull, The Last Wave, The Servant, Ikiru, Old Boy and Little Miss Sunshine.






It’s fitting to point out that The Clock could be equally placed in the gallery or the cinema. But Marclay’s specifications for presenting the piece make Tate Modern’s new Blavatnik Building the perfect setting for this particular video installation. With the option to view the work in increments, or special 24hr screenings, The Clock is now ticking. So get on down and see for yourselves what all the talk is about.

‘The Clock’ By Christian Marclay 

Tate Modern – Blavatnik Building

14th September 2018 – 20th January 2019

Written By Sonny Arifien of Privilege of Legends

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