Christian Marclay at White Cube Bermondsey

Bridging the visual, the audible and the kinetic, Christian Marclay’s new work for White Cube Bermondsey builds on his earlier explorations of sound and visual art that we know to have produced charming results. For this show he facilitates a whole host of artistic disciplines in a comprehensive look at how it’s possible for the two senses to interact, or more so, how it’s possible for the two to exist autonomously and yet reveal so much about the character of the other.

Opening up the exhibition is Pub Crawl (2014) – a series of videos playing simultaneously, which follow the artist’s gaze around the floors of the East London streets. In each one, Marclay comes across an empty glass or crushed beer can, which he then periodically hits producing a ringing sound. The work is effectively an audio collage – moments from multiple scenes (much like in The Clock) are selected and spliced together. The result being that Marclay is both the performer and producer… but he doesn’t keep us at a distance.

Throughout his oeuvre there’s a thread of participation. Largely, by sampling recognisable visual and audible material, he provokes that participation. For Pub Crawl, it’s the identifiable scenes from the layman’s life that line the central corridor that begin this process. Then there’s the fact that the film is an unimpressive de-saturated quality; grainy and aesthetically unremarkable and could have been shot by me (which is not too far from the point). You see Marclay did something quite deliberate with the display of this work. He could have chosen to project the films from a raised perspective on the wall, as would be customary, but instead he chose to line the floors of this central aisle of the gallery, where the projected films are continuously interrupted by our shadows. The approach is two-fold. First they’re set on London streets so in-descript that every viewer can imagine being on that exact one, and secondly, in entering the scenes, we become passers-by – fully involved and engrossed in the piece.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, it’s the iconic visuals of popular culture that Marclay quotes and reinforces a sense of familiarity. Not least in his video installation Surround Sounds, which sits side-by-side (gallery to gallery), with its painterly counterparts. These galleries are filled with his onomatopoetic works, which explore how the purely visual (as they are visibly seen rather than read aloud) can evoke the audible through onomatopoetic words. In the video piece, choruses of ssshes cascade the four walls of the gallery; ticks and tocks line the skirting board, flipping over one syllable at a time; and the list goes on. This is the quietest and yet the most evocative work in the show. How? It’s what we’d call visually loud.

Visit this exhibition at quiet moment, when there’s no performances on, and you’ll quickly realise that whilst this exhibition hinges on the concept of sound, it’s audible utterances are limited. Surround Sounds is afterall a silent sound-scape – the only thing you physically hear in the immersive, ‘surround-sound’ video is the hum of the projector. Then you realise that each of the videos that comprise Pub Crawl are set on empty streets; and that the nearest experience to music in the exhibition is framed sheet music, but these don’t give us the satisfaction of sound, they imply raucous pub antics but are envisaged by neatly typed lyrics on the wall. In the back gallery, there’s a band of collated beer glasses lining custom-built shelving, which could very easily be a street performers’ tool, but they’re redundant and their supply has run dry.

But woe isn’t me because this show is brilliant, the work lyrical, the discussions multitimbral. And here’s where my opening point materialises – from a series of photographs Marclay’s exhibited previously, one image comes to mind as an apt concluding comment. In Chicago, Marclay photographs a car’s bumper with a sticker that reads… “Honk if you love silence.”

The wonders and the pleasure of irony.

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