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Why The Clock At Tate Modern Is A Must-See

October 2018Words by Mr Oli Stratford

Mr Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010. Installation view. © the artist. Photograph by Mr Matt Greenwood. Courtesy of The Tate

Mr Christian Marclay’s artwork The Clock is a mélange. To sit before its screen – currently installed at Tate Modern's Blavatnik Building – is to witness a full 24 hours of cinema history, all told through a maelstrom of rapidly spliced clips drawn from the archives of arthouse, blockbuster, serial and romcom.

Mr Humphrey Bogart attempts to wake a sleeping woman; Mr Christopher Walken narrates the story of a wristwatch once hidden in his rectum; Ms Joan Crawford (as seems right and proper) drinks a cocktail; Mr Harold Lloyd dangles from the face of a department store; and Mr Tobey Maguire is fired from his job delivering pizzas and forced to rely upon his precarious second job as Spider-Man. The residents of Elm Street prepare themselves for bed, yet their inevitable assailant never arrives. “Life all comes down to a few moments,” says a young Mr Charlie Sheen, awaiting his interview on Wall Street. “This is one of them.”

The Clock, which premiered in 2010 at London’s White Cube gallery, is built around a simple premise. As billed, Mr Barclay’s film is a functioning timepiece, faithfully tracking an entire day’s worth of time. Yet it is the work’s execution that delights: the day is measured out in clips that all feature either a clock or watch, each of which is precisely synchronised with real time in the gallery. At 10.50am in the Tate, and at 10.50am on-screen, a delightfully hammy Mr Jeremy Irons makes a phone call. We’re in Die Hard With A Vengeance, and Mr Bruce Willis answers the phone. There’s a bomb hidden somewhere in New York City, and if Mr Willis doesn’t meet Mr Irons’s demand of getting Downtown in exactly half an hour’s time, it will detonate. Meanwhile, visitors to the Tate sit safely in the dark of the gallery, cosied up as Mr Marclay’s artwork breezes past the threat of Mr Irons to continue gallivanting through cinema’s back catalogue. Until, of course, we reach 11.20am, at which point we welcome back Mr Willis.