Christian Marclay at the DHC/Art Foundation

Ashley Math

Sometimes things need to be broken, even destroyed, in order to magnify their power. It is this precise act of re-discovery, of searching and valorizing odd details and damaged goods that visual artist and composer Christian Marclay explores in his exhibition Replay at DHC/ART Foundation. DHC is an alternative, albeit incoherent space that often feels more like a slick condo building than an art institution. The site is spread out over four floors in one building, culminating in two rooms located across the street. The disjointed nature of the space seems only to augment the art by giving it the necessary movement to push and pull it together.

Marclay cut his teeth in the 1970s New York punk scene, when “search and destroy!” was the hymn on the streets. Since then he has joined forces with avant garde luminaries Sonic Youth, Michael Snow, and John Zorn to name a few. His work echoes the interventional methods of the Fluxus movement and the subversive pop productions of Laurie Anderson. Most notably, it is Marclay’s take on the Duchampian readymade that consistently appears throughout his work. Borrowing from pop culture, Marclay turns the familiar into the extraordinary. In doing so, he challenges his audience to endure sounds that most times are tuned out or rejected as nothing more than noise.

Throughout Replay Marclay examines deconstruction as a means of reconstructing found material. Concentrating on combinations and break-downs of audio/visual media, he employs samples of Hollywood films and musical recordings, constantly expanding the sounds which inhabit visual language. Gathered from a vast collection of the artist’s video works throughout the last thirty years, the exhibit is a satiated sensory experience.

The first video of the exhibit, Fast Music (1982) is a performance-based piece that shows the artists literally eating a record in 21 seconds. Disbelief is afloat as the vinyl object becomes something more malleable, edible even, in the hands and mouth of Marclay.  Another video monitor lights up with a man reading a loquacious music review in Mixed Reviews, American Sign Language (2001). The repetitive gestures become a kind of absurd metrical pantomime simultaneously calling on silence as an integral component of sound. Moreover, the very idea of communicating a review in language most people don not understand makes for a sardonic commentary on cultural criticism in general.

Perhaps the ultimate exploration of sonic extremes resonates in Guitar Drag (1999) that shows Marclay plugging a fender electric guitar into an amp attached to the back of his pick-up truck. As he drives away the audience is bombarded with harsh screeches and moans from the guitar being pulled across course pavement and soft grass; whereby sticks and leaves gather in between the strings further distorting its sound. Altogether the video is a cacophony of electric noise.  One not only cries for the wounded guitar but also for the eardrums which are exhausted by the explosion of sound.

The crescendos of the exhibit are the two final video installations. The first, Crossfire (2007), has one gallery transformed into a virtual war-zone. On each of the four walls there are film clips of identifiable Hollywood action movies and classic westerns play. The eerie sounds of many guns cocking and triggers being pulled back are followed by an incessant onslaught of gun-fire directed at the viewer. In this chorus of riddling bullets the piece progressively transforms into a pattern of synchronized, rhythmic forms. Marclay makes the guns chant and pound-out the sound of death. Alas, as the gun powder clears the visceral amplitude of the piece leaves the viewer numb en route to the next screening gallery.

Finally the audience is rewarded with an amiably engaging video montage Video Quartet (2002). The piece is projected across a massive wall and consists of an archive of Hollywood films. The emphasis is placed on the music and the waves of emotion which accompany the sound. As Marclay glues the images together the beholder is left with a new and humorous musical arrangement. This is undeniably a celebration of the scores of musical sound that far too often go unnoticed on film.

Marclay intuitively reconfigures the components of sound to create new compositions in every aspect of this exhibit. Much of the time the artist is collecting what is conventionally considered damaged or an undesirable sound: scratches, wobbles, hisses, injured instruments, and infinitesimal bouquets of dust collected in the grooves of an LP, are all rendered exceptional and unique with the touch of Marclay