The Clock

By Rachel Thomson

Her name was Wren, and as I sat beside her in the dark cinema, letting her gum my fingers with her soft wet exploratory mouth, I experienced a synchronisation between the human body and an extended ‘electric’ consciousness.

The film we were watching was Christian Marclay’s The Clock, a tapestry of film fragments synchronised to real time, anchoring audience, documents and narrative within a 24-hour cycle. While the fragments are drawn from the history of the cinema, The Clock is a deeply digital project, with editing underpinned by automated searches of the database that is the history of cinema.

We enjoy clusters of meaningful transition: built around gesture; shots; cineaste jokes; and perhaps also accident. Each transition is ‘cute’ (we see what you did there) but ephemeral, as time’s arrow drives us forward and reminds us that yes, it is that time, inside and outside the screen. But this is a circular time. I can come again on the weekend for the 24-hour showing and witness the rarely-seen material documenting the wee-small hours. I wonder how much movie time is given over to 3.30 am. Maybe night-time goes more quickly? Or are the sequences just longer? I predict a flurry of phone calls waking people with bad news.

I feel anxious about how much time I can afford to spend here, but also hating to miss anything. If I manage to see it all, would I have consumed time or film history? Or should I just chill out and treat this as an extended metaphor, telling stories from the materiality of culture, facilitated by automated search and retrieval?

The cinema is packed, the audience is compelled. As conceptual art this works, as entertainment this works. Interestingly people seem to come and go on the hour, using the clock to structure their voyeurism. But I am connected to Wren and her indigenous temporality. As we sit at adjacent sofas we play pat-a-cake until she gets bored. She explores my rings, enjoys eye contact as it comes and goes in the flickering light. She is on Wren-time: her cycles and circles are both faster and slower than clock time and they are never the same twice. Wren has been born for nine months so far, and I take my cue to slip away when she forgets me and moves onto the next thing.

Christian Marclay’s The Clock is showing at the Tate Modern until January 20th 2019.

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