Switzerland : Christian Marclay


Christian Marclay deals in recordings. That is, he uses recordings as his art, in his art, but with traditional boundaries nicely scrambled. He first installed vinyl LPs on the floor of The Clocktower in New York in 1987; five years later he laid out 14,000 shiny CDs, face down on the floor of the Jerusalem Museum of Art. For the exhibition Le Temps, vite in January 2000 at Centre Pompidou in Paris, Marclay brought together some of his sculptural works: Endless Column (1988), a stack of long-playing records wickedly unlike Constantin Brancusi's work of the same name, with The Beatles (1989), a cushion covered with a crocheted audiotape of all of the quartet's recordings, and Moebius Loop (1994), an enormous ribbon of audio cassettes tied together in a winding strip of unhearable captured sound. As he noted in a recent interview with Bice Curiger, "music is material. Recording technology has turned music into an object, and a lot of my work is about that object as much as it is about the music. [. . .] One doesn't necessarily think of music as a physical reality, but it has physical manifestations. It can also be an illustration, a painting, a drawing." Or as he put it even more succinctly, "I want my work to be about the aural, but it doesn't necessarily have to be about music."

Though born in California, Marclay grew up in Geneva and went to art school there, his first connections to a "scene" being through John Armleder and the cart group, with their strong connections to Fluxus. He returned to the U.S. in 1977 and has consistently explored a space between sound and image. Time figures centrally, but it is reflected or recollected time, a measuring and marking that is not simply about "memory." He often turns to found objects and out-of-date media, to refigure them in unexpected new forms. As Russell Ferguson comments,

"The idea of abandonment and recovery is a powerful theme for Marclay. His sculptures and collages are often made from the detritus of recorded and transmitted audibility: old phones, speakers, cassette tapes, album covers; and, of course, records, snatched from the edge of obsolescence into which they have already passed for most people. His photograms of broken records, and indeed his working with records at all, speak of an attention to the outmoded and disappearing." (Russell Furguson, " The Sound of Silence ", Christian Marclay / Amplification, Venise, Biennale di Venezia 1995 / Svizzera / Chiesa di San Stae, p. 19)


Christian Marclay is wonderfully inventive, yet has a certain pensive quality. As Ferguson points out,

"music is always in the present; its listeners hear it each time as if for the first time. This essential presentness of music is also what makes it historically the most transitory of the arts - before Edison music was simply gone the instant after it was made - and thus symbolic of human life itself. Vanitas paintings often feature musical instruments, sometimes with a broken string, for just this reason." (Russell Furguson, " The Sound of Silence ", Christian Marclay / Amplification, Venise, Biennale di Venezia 1995 / Svizzera / Chiesa di San Stae, p. 17-18)


Yet Marclay's improvised live performances vibrate with energy, as he mixes altered records on multiple turntables. He predates today's DJs by several years. As he notes:

"Music is a very popular experience that anybody can relate to. It's a lot more popular than painting." [And in any case, "in] a performance you have the visual presence of someone producing sound. In my work I'm constantly dealing with the contradiction between the material reality of the art object as a thing and its potential immateriality. In a way immateriality is the perfect state, it is the natural outcome of the ephemeral. In music this aspect of immateriality is very liberating. Ideally I would like to make art that is invisible. [. . .]" (Brice Curiger, Arranged and Conducted by Christian Marclay, Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1997, p. 58, 56)


Photographs, objects, installations of mixed metaphors, reversals, movies, edited fragments of films, words, pictures, the implications and influence of the media. With Christian Marclay, the reproducible confounds all expectations.


Peggy Gale




L A   B I E N N A L E   D E   M O N T R É A L   2 0 0 0
Tél. : (514) 288-0811
Téléc. : (514) 288-5021