by Mikko Lautamo
It’s impossible to talk about Christian Marclay without bringing up The Clock, his 24-hour, real-time video montage that became a global hit and bagged him a Golden Lion among other accolades. In 2013 people lined up all the way out the door at SFMOMA to see it. Now through June 25, Marclay has a lower-key offering nearby. Six New Animations recaptures what was hypnotic about The Clock whileexploring new conceptual territory. Until now, Marclay’s oeuvre has focused on sound-related imagery and found footage, but these animations embrace silence and document readymade objects: garbage in the streets of London.
Marclay was born in California, but lives in London. Time to time he goes for walks and photographs the detritus littering the street: bottle caps, cotton swabs, straws, burnt-out cigarettes, bubble gum hardened and bleached over time — things no one notices and no one wants. He’s assembled each type of trash into six flipbook-like videos that recall the silent film flicker of early cinema. In one, hundreds of photos of straws are sequenced to look like the turning hands of a clock. In another, cotton cue tips jitter and wave, the smoke-like cotton billowing from the ends of the paper shaft. Each straw, cue tip, etc. is a different unique object out there in the world somewhere, but the industrial sameness of this consumerist garbage creates the illusion of movement. There’s something anachronistic about looking at these videos; you get a distinct hint of the 19th century, of zoetropes, phenakistoscopes, Edweard Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscopes and the pioneering films of Georges Méliès (1861-1938). Time and technology are collapsed.
Chewing Gum is particularly staggering in its complexity. Unlike the other videos that focus on single objects, Gum is a constellation of countless white and gray blobs of hardened gum that dance in front of myriad sidewalk and pavement backdrops. The blobs traverse the width of the screen, beat and pulse like stars, collide, reform, and split into new constellations. The sequence is impossibly detailed, relying on thousands of individual photos to establish the right sequence and rhythm. As with The Clock, Marclay here exhibits an uncanny sense of where to cut and paste, how to create a cohesive whole out of so many mundane pieces. No doubt his experience with music — especially his work as an experimental DJ, where he would slice up vinyl records and glue them together to create “Frankenstein” discs of carefully muddled analog sounds, clicks and pops — has informed the musicality of these animations. There’s a playfulness and performative quality to the way the blobs combine that hints at an innate facility with mixing and remixing.
As with any of Marclay’s works, the ideas of Fluxus, Beuys and Duchamp inform what’s on view in Animations. Duchamp especially. Still somewhat punk after 100 years, his readymades echo in Marclay’s mass-produced garbage. The grungy flick of Cigarettes reads first as a simple cartoon: the cigarette burns down and then grows again, writhing like a snake as different backgrounds flash by in each frame. Read as a parable for death and rebirth, the cigarette starts to turn into a symbol for many things. Isn't smoking a ritual? Marclay walking the streets of London, snapping pictures of cigarette butts is another ritual. Meaningless, cynical or existentially rich, there are many valences available, the most substantial being time, like the ticking of a clock.
You don’t have to go into Six New Animations expecting more than what you see. These animations are immediately accessible; like swelling music before a film’s climax, the drama “painted” on the walls is unmistakable. But, if you want to go further, Marclay’s work provides many avenues to explore: thematic refrains and improvisations on original melodies – all suspended amid the silence and the flicker of frames. Once again Marclay shows his remarkable facility with disparate cuts, forging a solid groove out of many jagged edges.
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Christian Marclay: “Six New Animations” @ Fraenkel Gallery through June 25, 2016.
All images: copyright Christian Marclay, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.
About the Author:
Mikko Lautamo is an artist living and working in Sacramento. His work uses programming to create never-repeating loops of digital animations based on social systems, biological entities and interactions. He teaches Electronic Art at Sac State and has exhibited work in Sacramento, Melbourne and online. His work can be viewed on Vimeo.