Christian Marclay’s ‘The Clock’: A Response

This response by Ruth Clinton to Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” is in the form of a voice-over made from fragments of other voice-overs from various films. It seeks to inhabit the work by becoming a mimetic commentary on, and an imagined narration by, “The Clock” itself. This text was originally performed as a slide show for a class presentation.

(V.O.) 15 minutes to go and I’m wondering how I got here. The machinery had started to move and nothing could stop it. The time for thinking had all run out. From here on it was a question of following the time, move by move. I wanted all my time accounted for for the rest of the afternoon and up to the last possible moment in the night. It’s not that I’m afraid of it, but I don’t know what it is anymore. It’s hard even to take its measure. You lose an hour, you gain an hour. This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. The first time I realised, I was dizzy, but after a while it all got to be normal. I didn’t feel fear, but just kind of blah, like when you’re sitting there and all the water’s run out of the bathtub. It was routine. Life consists of routine, and then more routine. You didn’t even think about it. Sometimes the clock might have moved slow, but it was only because it didn’t have to move for anybody. Some time is slow time. Sometimes it feels like stoptime. Time can draw out like a blade. An ice age here, a million years of mountain building there, plates of bedrock grinding against each other over a span of millennia. Time: that’s all it takes, really.

I remember my first night. Seems a long time ago now. It was the longest night of my life. I was lost in oblivion, dark and complete. It was so still I could hear the ticking of the clock, but yet I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man. I didn’t know what to make of that. The world was like a faraway planet and I was neither here nor there. Right then it came over me that I couldn’t walk at all. You see, the tragedy of my life is that I only exist in the hours in which we have our time together. But our time with each other is limited and each lives for the precious hours and seconds that were made for this world. We have our time together and then never see each other again. I guess we make each other real.

It’s funny how the rhythm of the clock remains ingrained in you for life. Every evening I died and every morning I was born. Resurrected. But the fates had been stalling me off and now they had thrown the switch. My life had taken another turn: suddenly there was a change. Old life blown away in the blink of an eye. This wasn’t the end, it was only the beginning again. I sensed that my destiny now lay with the end of the day, the edge of the horizon. The only hope for survival lies in time. I’ve got to summon the past and future to the aid of the present.

Then one day destiny just tapped me on the shoulder and asked for a few minutes alone with me. I don’t remember much of anything that happened in the next few days. My mind tends to jump around a little, and have some trouble between fantasy and reality. In the end, it’s impossible to separate the fact from the fiction. I should not dwell on such things, but set them behind me. Maybe real and unreal can never be separated. No time and real time, all mixed together. Endless hours of doing nothing, thinking nothing. Once, time was frozen so stiff that for a second I thought I was dead, but then I heard destiny:

We’re going to be spending a lot of time together… a lot of time… lots and lots and lots of time. And we’re never, ever, ever going to be apart.

And there were subjects we didn’t discuss and there were words we didn’t say, I couldn’t say, like death, like future, like real. And it was hard because I was curious and full of questions. But I somehow felt empty inside. It was time to move on. There was nothing left. Fate seemed kind of unreal and time stretched out in front of me as it always had. My whole life has pointed in one direction. I see that now. There never has been any choice for me. Then another wave of Time washes over me. I keep on going and do it all over again. The memory of a twice-lived fragment of time returns, like clockwork.

The clock is my business and will be for some time. I’m a money machine. Total organisation is necessary. The days move along with regularity, one day indistinguishable from the next, a long continuous chain. Stretch shifts, six to six, sometimes six to eight in the a.m., six days a week, sometimes twelve hours of work, eighteen hour days, some nine to five. The days dwindle on forever and do not end. Living like this, it’s a full time business. But the market works on turn-over. Built-in obsolescence is the name of the game and we’re gambling for time. It doesn’t matter, its’ all profit in the end. From time to time, inside the counting room, the place where they count up all the hours and minutes, they’d do short counts. In the count room nobody ever seems to see anything. Somehow, somebody’s always looking the other way. I mean they’re gonna steal a little bit extra for themselves. Makes sense doesn’t it? Right? I mean, he who controls it controls our destiny. Eleven o’clock, three o’clock, eight o’clock: stolen hours… nobody knows for sure just how much is taken. Sometimes I can’t believe how fast things move, like the world went and got itself in a big damn hurry. I just try to keep up. Time gets away from us in little separations; fragmenting, while moments flare from every fractured edge.

And, finally, when there’s nothing left, I wind up right back where I started. Time rolls back again, the moment returns.

Badlands; Shawshank Redemption; Blade Runner; Fight Club; Dune; Pitch Black; Casino; Goodfellas; Taxi Driver; True Grit; Election;

Ruth Clinton is a visual artist and a student on the MA Art In The Contemporary World.