At White Cube, Christian Marclay Serves Up Sensory Gratification
BRRRR! SWSSSSHH! PLOF! SPLAT!—these are just some of the boisterous words that bellow and bawl throughout Christian Marclay’s crackling exhibition at White Cube’s Bermondsey branch in London. While the Swiss-American multimedia artist remains most widely known as one of the DJs who pioneered scratching within the 1970s New York club scene, and for his brilliant 2010 film The Clock (an epic 24-hour montage of spliced footage relating to the real time), which has been screened on four continents, this aptly untitled show reaches a peak when it comes to dealing with the relationship between image and sound. It’s a smorgasbord of sensory gratification.
Themes of liquidity and onomatopoeia are drizzled throughout the immaculate, white-walled exhibition space. Surround Sounds (2014-15) is a bewitching animation—evidently inspired by the vivid comic books that Marclay avidly read as a child—projected onto the four walls of a blacked-out room. Monosyllables detonate, inflate, multiply, swirl, and cascade at an intense velocity, and despite the reality of silence, it feels as if there’s a riotous cacophony throbbing away. This style bleeds through into a series of screen print-cum-paintings by Marclay, such as the plump mass of Black on Red Plop (2014) and the scarlet splash of Blood Gloop (2014), playfully nodding to Lichtenstein and Pollock; to abstract expressionism and pop.
Making the segue from liquids to liquid lunches (and Britain’s binge-drinking culture), Pub Crawl (2014) is the result of Marclay’s ventures through East London’s detritus-strewn streets on early weekend mornings. The area is a bustling nightlife hotspot, but Marclay is concerned with the remnants and relics that remain once the sun has risen—11 projections depict the artist hunting abandoned drinking vessels, knocking and tapping them around the greyed, gum-splattered pavements to orchestrate a beer bottle symphony. Located in the gallery’s corridor, the moving silhouettes of onlookers ingeniously become overlaid onto these images, juxtaposing the busy thoroughfare with an eerie soundtrack.
The effect is dizzying—inebriating even—as visitors woozily stroll into another room. But this one provides no sobering solace. What at first appear to be straightforward framed music sheets, devolve into a further muddling of the senses: panes of bullseye glass (here, resembling the dimples on a wine bottle) are perfectly positioned to warp and skew your perspective of the lyrics. These found-songs are eulogies to drinking, and speak of “wine to quaff,” “beer, glorious beer” and how “the wine divine is my daily shrine.” It’s addictive and intoxicating.
Some are overawed by White Cube Bermondsey’s cavernous space, but Marclay has made it his own. With the collaboration of the contemporary classical music ensemble London Sinfonietta and Vinyl Factory Press, a series of live music recordings open to the public add layers to this immersion. In a large space bordered by a shelf with a thousand glasses of all shapes and sizes, these multi-instrumental performances (some even use glasses)—at times including artists such as Mica Levi and Thurston Moore—clink, clank, ring and rattle in compelling bursts. It’s all instantly recorded, then forged with 100 tons of force using an onsite vinyl press, for those who want to listen back, and inevitably be reminded of a WOOOOSH! or THWUMP! that they witnessed here.