Watching The Clock

Yesterday I joined the long line of museumgoers eager to see The Clock before it leaves San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (and to enjoy the museum before it closes for expansion). The Clock is a 24-hour video—you stay as long or as briefly as you like—consisting of thousands of film clips, each clip indicating a time of day (2:20, 5:15) that corresponds to the actual time you happen to be watching. So it functions as a clock itself as well as a film.

Sometimes the time is shown on a character’s watch or on a clock face; sometimes it’s mentioned in the dialogue. It’s a marvel of editing by artist Christian Marclay; the clips span movie history, familiar and obscure, and the result is witty and mesmerizing. A character looks up in shock, and the person looking back is from another film. The soundtrack from one clip overlaps into the next, creating unsettling relationships between scenes. You keep watching to see how things will resolve, even though by its nature and structure the “narrative” can’t resolve; it just keeps unfolding. The anxiety of waiting, and of being kept waiting, was one prominent theme during the afternoon chunk that I viewed.

Reflecting about the experience afterward, I thought, yes, we know that clock time dominates our lives. Yet how arbitrary and melodramatic that dominance is!

Worth standing in line for if it comes to an art space near you.

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