by Ann Jones
With cinema the dominant artform of the twentieth century, it should come as no surprise that artists have long employed moving image media practices in their work. Increasingly, with the use of film and video by artists perhaps more prevalent then ever, artists are also making the leap from gallery to cinema. So what characterises artists’ film and what separates it from cinema? In the discussion that followed the screening of his work The Lark Ascending (2004) at the Prince Charles cinema in 2004, Mark Wallinger answered a question about why he described the work – a gradually lightening grey screen accompanied by an initially baffling soundtrack gradually rising in pitch and revealing itself to be birdsong – as a film with the words to the effect of ‘Well, if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.’ For me this response missed the mark; from where I was sitting the work had neither looked nor sounded like a film. I realised that despite sitting in a packed cinema, looking at the screen and listening to the soundtrack in the same way as I’d watched countless films before in that very space, I’d somehow experienced the work as sculpture. It’s more than possible that this was a failing on my part, but I don’t think I was alone in questioning the nature of cinema at the end of the screening.
Recently, a number of exhibitions and screenings have brought this question back to mind. Firstly Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010), 24 hours long and constructed from clips from Hollywood films, which clearly engages with cinema by taking narrative film as its source material and reworking it to form new narratives, albeit brief and often disjointed ones. The conceit of this work is that the film features clocks throughout and that these always tell the right time. If there is an overarching story it is perhaps one about our obsession with time but as watching the film it is easy to get caught up in its micro-narratives and set the bigger picture aside for later. It’s hard not to use the words great achievement when talking about The Clock but doing so tends to focus the discussion on the research that must have gone into it and the technical achievement – see, there’s that word again – of putting the piece together when in fact the film amounts to a great deal more than these. It’s easy to enjoy The Clock without recognising the source material or understanding the way it was made, indeed my own woefully limited knowledge of film history never seemed to matter. As one clip cuts to another there are plenty of visually pleasing juxtapositions, enjoyable in their own right, as well as moments of great tension, particularly as the turn of the hour approaches. And thanks to some seriously good and well-considered sound editing, the cuts are never jarring. Music often runs across several clips, setting the mood, heightening tension, giving a sense of drama and sometimes impending doom. Mealtimes are observed; trains are waited for, met, caught or missed; ringing phones are answered; conversations take place across decades, continents and genres.
Continue reading Present Tense: Film, Cinema and the Gallery Space