Christian Marclay

Federation Square, Melbourne, Nov 2007 – Feb 2008
curated by Emma Lavigne, Cité de la Musique Paris
Cultural games follow rules that always allow for moments of freedom. Canny game-players sometimes use their artistic licence to reconfigure the rules. ACMI’s Replay: Marclay, a monographic exhibition of ten video works and some additional screenings and sound recordings by US/Swiss-raised Christian Marclay, shows us an artist using the rules of one game to play another.

He appears to follow the art game’s rules exceptionally. Whether Marclay’s objects are records, fluxus relics, or excerpts from old films become banal through repetition and the passing of years, in work after work we see the now sterilised remainders of deadened culture being reinvigorated in some way – percussed, sampled, mixed, refigured, disfigured, rhythmicised, made contrapuntal. Since Marclay tends to treat his raw material rather generically (the filmic contexts of his samples and the individual sound recordings he employs seem largely irrelevant to the work), this cultural reincarnation occurs most successfully in his work at a conceptual level, as idea or strategy. And as it happens, revitalising the moribund is one of the key strategies of the contemporary art game as it’s been played for the last few decades.

But when Marclay attempts to realise this strategy, he enters another game with other rules. It’s possible that the rhythmic stodginess of Crossfire (2007) as a percussion work (for sampled cinema gun-shooting) was partly due to poor playback synchronisation (elsewhere, only two of Gestures’ [1999] four audio channels were playing). With Video Quartet (2002), however, Marclay’s limitations within his chosen genre, the string quartet, were obvious. Stringing sonic and visual gestures together simply according to likeness and repeating samples across different screens in place of standard musical development, Marclay eventually effects a climactic amassing of sound and visual signs of tension (the strongest being the tearing of the curtain from Psycho) that is directionless and achieves nothing. Reigniting and remobilising the riches of reified culture has been an explicit objective of many composers – Berg, Cage, Mahler, Berio, Zorn, Rihm, Kagel, even the late Beethoven. Ignoring their moves, Marclay merely remoulds his remnants of the past into already redundant forms.
Huw Hallam
image Guitar Drag 2000, video projection 14 minutes


Blogger Jared Davis said...

Replay: Marclay allows us to observe the inherent difficulties of crossing borders between experimental musical composition and visual or conceptual art. Approaching Marclay’s works as experimental compositions may lead to an intrinsically different experience to that of approaching Marclay’s work as concept art. Christian Marclay’s practice is particularly loaded, as everything pertaining to his sound works, from his chosen instruments of records and turntables to the sound pieces’ methods of conception and even their resultant sonorous qualities, all carry with them strong cultural associations. What’s more, Marclay is conscious and sensitive towards the execution of his musical works, and has successfully learnt to control his turntables just as any competent musician uses their respective instruments, stating in the cover notes of his djTRIO album: “[I wanted to] promote the notion of the deejay as an ensemble player in contrast with the conventional view of the deejay as a soloist. I believe a good deejay should be able to play music with others, like any legitimate musician.” Hence the argument that his work is at best an “idea or strategy” which has not been properly executed is indeed either false or contrary to the artist’s best intentions.

Perhaps a critique can be put towards Marclay that he does not exactly tell us what to make of his composing works from the sounds that we are cultivated to not want to hear, but I would argue that his drawing attention to these common ‘sound objects’ is an interesting and pertinent enough catalyst for thought regarding the popular sonic culture that plays such a pivotal role in our daily lives.

12:57 PM  

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