It's about time. Christian Marclay's video collage, The Clock, focuses on time in an age when nobody seems to have enough of it. It also provides a new view of a topic we take for granted yet never really have understood. Time is how we measure the moments between dawn and dusk and vice versa, yet the moments of our own lives often seem to either fly by or drag on interminably. The Clock takes us to the movies to explore the uneasy relationship between time and life as it is lived. Assembled from more than 10,000 old film clips featuring scenes set in various times of the day or night, Marclay's monumental video installation can be used as a clock in its own right. Now making its Southern premiere at the Contemporary Arts Center as a prelude to the Prospect.4 biennial, you can set your watch by it — just look at the screen as the time appears on clocks and watches during scenes of dramatic bank heists, car chases or high-noon shootouts. Nights can be boozy or rambunctious before eventually yielding to sleep and dreams in the the wee hours, and although timepieces are the focus of the show, The Clock features more movie stars over its 24-hour duration than an Academy Awards ceremony.
If it sounds like a clever stunt, many who have ventured into venues like New York's Museum of Modern Art expecting to catch a few minutes of it have found themselves transfixed, still staring at the screen several hours later. Why that happens may have to do with the mysterious nature of time itself, as well as the no less elusive mysteries of art and artists. Unassuming and soft-spoken, Marclay is not a flashy Hollywood casting sort of art star, but when it comes to time and movies, his background is perfect. Born in California, America's longtime film industry epicenter, and reared in Switzerland, a place synonymous with clocks and watches, Marclay is nothing if not meticulous, and The Clock is as precisely polished as a high-end Swiss watch. But can that really explain why so many have found it so engaging?
"I'm trying to create a seamless flow, yet it's all fragments, so the editing is crucial," Marclay says. "You take two things that are unrelated and you make them click. The fact that it's in real time is the key to the piece. It is happening now and your life becomes part of it, so you become an actor in this piece because you have to make choices, your life is still looming on the side. So there is always that tension: 'How long am I going to stay? What else do I have to do?' I think that tension is really important in a way that is unlike most film or video work."
In other words, you can be both a participant and a spectator — if you have the time. The Clock is on view at the Contemporary Arts Center during regular daylight hours Monday through Wednesday, with special 24-hour screenings starting at 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25 through 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27.