Christian Marclay's sounds and visions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 February, 2015, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 February, 2015, 10:49pm
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After the global success of his 24-hour film The Clock, which features thousands of movie clips of watches, clocks and people telling the time, it has been hard to imagine what Christian Marclay might do next.

The Swiss-American artist, who lives in London, has gone on a huge pub crawl. He has also turned to painting as well as drink.

Marclay's latest show fills White Cube's museum-sized space in Bermondsey, southeast London. The empties, bright from the dishwasher, are lined up on a shelf that runs round the walls of one space, at bar height.

In an adjacent room, Marclay's canvases splosh, squish, sploosh and shlump. A sort of inebriated action painting, these harassed paint explosions come with stencilled-on comic-book exclamations. Their titles also describe what Marclay has done to the paintings. Actions: Sploosh Whooosh Blub Blub Blub does exactly what it says. Using buckets, water-pistols, silk screens, gravity and liquidity, Marclay is turning painting into a sort of cartoon parody of the kind of thing po-faced action-painters inflicted on their art.

With a nod to pop art these canvas rants confuse the action with its meaning, the gesture with its sound. The trouble is, Marclay's paintings are a bit too pat, and oddly delicate for all their noisy blather. You don't really need a whole series of them, once you've got the gag.

Little wonder Marclay went down the pub. In fact, he cruised the area between Barbican and Shoreditch for abandoned bottles and beer cans in the gutter, the glasses on pub windowsills - the Saturday-morning evidence of Friday night - in order to make a kind of impromptu music.

Marclay's peregrinations are recorded on video, projected down the side-walls of the gallery's main corridor. You walk between the videos, echoing Marclay's own walk as he kicks cans, crunches on broken glass, sends bottles spinning down the pavement, taps empty glasses with his pen, and coaxes John Cage-like notes from the aftermath of City workers filling up before emptying out, unsteadily, to the suburbs.

The random, aleatory music of Pub Crawl echoes through the galleries. Sometimes, it collides with different music. Last week, Zoë Martlew played Alvin Lucier's 1992 composition Music for Cello with One or More Amplified Vases. The performance took place in the gallery where the glasses line the walls and, as the cello note rose in pitch, these amplified vases began to resonate, creating vibrations and beats, and making the air quiver.

Marclay's video installation, titled Surround Sounds, is both silent and the noisiest piece in the show. Cartoon words again: comic-book sound effects hit you from all sides. A lime-green tickertape "Mmmmmmmmmm" runs round the bottom of the walls.

The word "Pop!" is everywhere. Suddenly we are wallpapered in stripes of "Ssshh", repeated in bright manic colours. Ripped comic-book pages flutter like butterflies and fall to the floor. Chevrons of "Zzzzkrzz" attack and decay. Words spin into pinwheeling mandalas.

Next we're trapped in honking midtown traffic, as Deeps, Breeps, Bleeblips and Vips spangle the walls in bebop freeform time. There are blizzards of words, some made up, flashing and colliding; roulette wheels of words; words slicing the walls like zips. A "Fweeeeeeeee" arcs across the blackness like a comet.

Phew. All this wonderful nonsense takes place in near silence - the only sound coming from the projector fans. Marclay was working with these fanciful, superhero onomatopoeias right until the show's opening. Surround Sounds could go on forever. It takes you over and leaves you wanting more. Or less.

Wobbling out, it is a relief to hear the gentle tinkling of glasses, the mournful roll of the empty beer bottle in the gutter, the tap of the pen against the wine glass.

Guardian News & Media

" Christian Marclay" is at Bermondsey White Cube, London, until 12 April. Details: whitecube.com