The Clock

The Clock is a 24 hour film made of short clips of films telling the time, running in sync with real time.

It’s a fascinating experience.

You walk into this dark room, that feels a bit like an artsy cinema you might find in East London but it’s just different enough. The main difference being people come and go as they please as there is no clear beginning or end - it’s a 24 hour loop. The time on the screen runs just like your watch. If it’s 6:45 pm when you walk in, you might just glimpse Audrey Hepburn in a crowded room, inadvertently spilling a drink on someone’s hairpiece, putting off a fire she had just caused, while asking the time.

It’s brilliant in itself, and the artist's intention was to draw attention to time. In his words ‘We are all obsessed with time, and now maybe more than ever. With our phones we are in exact sync with everybody else. We know exactly when we did something - made a phone call, wrote an email, took a picture - our every action is timestamped’.

He also wants to draw attention to the passing of time and our feelings towards it. For him, art is about transcending time, but with this piece ‘the viewer is always reminded of what time it is on the screen. We see time passing in front of our eyes, and the time on the screen is the same time as on our watch.’ And it really is. I checked.

The installation really passes that experience. Time bends too. Some minutes seem to go faster than others. And clocks are not always there. Sometimes it’s in the dialogue ‘The train leaves in about half an hour. At 7 o’clock’.

But for me the brilliance of the piece went beyond just time into the stories on the screen.

The film was made of thousands of clips. Some really short, some a bit longer. Most long enough to tell a story.

All that is shown is that - the bit of the story where time is involved and fits in nicely. There is clear care with transition and flow, and some of the clips come from popular pieces with stories most audiences would know. Others no so much. For some, you know the context of the clips. For others, you don’t - and all you get is a tiny fraction of a bigger narrative.

It made me think of life and how interactions with others. It’s like a series of encounters, of connecting stories. You encounter people in a given time and moment, and that is what you get most of times. You don’t know what has happened before or what is going to happen to them after; all you get is their now. But that moment and all their actions are based on things that are happened before. Sometimes you know where they’re coming from, but most times it’s a chance encounter.​

It’s a bit transcendental - where the here and now is highly influenced by past experiences you might not be aware of. For me, it’s about staying curious about why are people coming from such an angle. You don’t know why someone is standing waiting in the cold, or unloading a chandelier while talking about time, or why they are asking the train schedule with so much apprehension.

That is what was the best about the whole experience. The Clock was more than just the passing of time, and the mix of joy and anxiety it gave; or the pleasure of trying to figure out how time is going to be told next; or the soundtrack that eases the transitions. Yes, it was about time. But more than that, it was about stories, and people.

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The Clock is a 2010 video installation by Christian Marclay. It has been on exhibition all over, including at the MoMA, the Tate and the Pompidou, and most recently at the Instituto Moreira Salles, in São Paulo, where I saw it.

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