The Clock

Language is not what it is because it has meaning… It is a fragmented nature, divided against itself and deprived of its original transparency by admixture; it is a secret that carries within itself, though near the surface, the decipherable signs of what it is trying to say. It is at the same time a buried revelation and a revelation that is gradually being restored to ever greater clarity.

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things

Every Thing has to end, but not so its fragments. Energy flows amongst systems. It constitutes as it destroys, but never does energy itself dissipate completely. All flow is transformation. Re-figuration is the enemy of entropy.

Christian Marclay’s new work, The Clock, currently on show at The White Cube in London, constitutes a new system from old fragments. Comprised of 24 hours of film segments, Marclay’s work offers the viewer a real-time database of clock faces captured by Marclay and forced into the cinematic paradigm. What fascinates most about this work (and at this stage, I must admit, I have not seen it) is its explicit totality: Marclay’s film effectively closes the image of time within the loop of a 24 hour cinematic. The database of clock faces ebbs forever forwards, closed into itself as loop. This is not only our shared perception of time, it is also a perception without which the art of cinema may never have emerged.

Put another way, Marclay’s work exposes the rigidity of not only the cinematic (a reel spins in only two directions) but also the conception of time (arguably a ‘Western’ one) that figures it. But – and this ‘but’ should be writ larger than my database of fonts allows me – Marclay’s work is a work made manageable in its making by a technology seemingly free of forward/backward limitations. For writer and theorist Lev Manovich the computer/digital database plays a fundamental role in transforming the hidden data set (thousands of individual film segments of clocks/time) and the material expression (the 24 hour long film) into the each of its other:

Literary and cinematic narratives work in the same way. Particular words, sentences, shots, scenes which make up a narrative have a material existence; other elements which form an imaginary world of an author or a particular literary or cinematic style and which could have appeared instead exist only virtually. Put differently, the database of choices from which narrative is constructed (the paradigm) is implicit; while the actual narrative (the syntagm) is explicit.

New media reverses this relationship. Database (the paradigm) is given material existence, while narrative (the syntagm) is de-materialised. Paradigm is privileged, syntagm is downplayed. Paradigm is real, syntagm is virtual.

Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media

Marclay’s gathering of clock footage only ever had one, obsessively realised, end point. The point when every second of the Earthly day (morning/noon/night) was figured, classed and catalogued by the totalising database. Here we find a metaphor impossible to mistake: that of a digital present, forever engaged in the cataloging of its own archaeology.

Cuttings, fragments. Old medias torn and compressed into digital instances and made to float between databases. This is the status of art today. It is not a new approach Marclay wields in his work, but in its totality (or its illusion of totality) The Clock must be one of the most successful attempts to figure the contemporary I have yet come across.