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’  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 Hallamimage Guitar Drag 2000, video projection 14 minutes