Review: Christian Marclay - The Clock

'This article is written by Anna Hadley, a third year English Literature student at the University of York, who explores the Christian Marclay's '24-hour film installation', The Clock, at Tate Modern. Whilst photographs were sadly prohibited, Anna questions how the installations hypnotic nature and its relationship to Ben Lerner's 10:04 draws the spectator in to think deeper on our relationship to time.'

Matilda Bentley


Review: Christian Marclay - The Clock

Anna Hadley



Photograph taken by Anna Hadley


One afternoon in London, during the blur of a post-Christmas slump, I decide to pass the time in a visit to Tate Modern. Yet my time there didn’t pass me by unmediated as I had presupposed. Instead, I saw Christian Marclay’s The Clock.


Marclay’s The Clock is a 24-hour film installation in which scenes from a wide-range of films are spliced and edited to match the actual time of the spectator. A feat, it must be said, which took Marclay three years. Mostly, this installation featured glances at clocks, and those on screen telling each-other the time. But it is far from banal, in spite of those on-screen checking their wrist-watches sometimes seemingly from boredom. Almost hypnotically, as I sank into the sofas in the auditorium, I felt I could have stayed there for hours.

What was most interesting was the suggestion of narrative which threads throughout The Clock. Although the installation has no storyline, the repetition of certain actors or characters create patterns, or a sense of narrative, even as it soon dissolves. This is aided by the soundtrack which often surpasses more than one scene, encouraging the spectator to make narrative links. The collision of all these different film scenes into one unitary installation, also creates the illusion of structural coherence usually reserved for narrative storylines.

Indeed, Marclay’s palimpsest inspired Ben Lerner’s novel 10:04, which takes its title from The Clock, as the time that Lerner’s protagonist hopes to view the installation in conjunction with the clock scene inBack to the Future. Although Lerner’s protagonist highlights his desire to integrate the various scenes into coherent fiction, he finds himself checking the time, despite watching The Clock in front of him. He claims: ‘I’d heard The Clock described as the ultimate collapse of fictional time into real time, a work designed to obliterate the distance between art and life, fantasy and reality. But part of why I looked at my phone was because that distance hadn’t been collapsed for me at all.’


Yet I felt time acutely whilst watching The Clock, and when I have checked the time since, I have thought of Marclay’s installation. Lerner’s protagonist checks his phone in his claim that he cannot overcome the distinction between art and the mundane (The Clock being the work of art here). However, considering that Ben Lerner’s 10:04 is a work of auto-fiction, collapsing the distinction between the writer’s own moments of mundanity and his art, surely Lerner can extend the same grace to Marclay who also plays with concepts of the mundane?


Whether you will agree with Ben Lerner or not, either way, it's time. Go see The Clock while you still can.

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