Pick up the phone, please


CHRISTIAN MARCLAY
Boneyard, 1990
hydrostone casts of telephone receivers, in 750 parts
dimensions variable: each receiver approximately 2 x 9 1/2 x 2/34 inches (5.0 x 24.1 x 6.9 centimeters)
© Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. 

"Since very early on, I have tried not to make a distinction between pop-culture and high art."  --Christin Marclay*

Since the late 70s, Christian Marclay has been working in a diverse range of mediums, from sound, music to film, installation, sculpture, also produced 2-d works. Probably most notable for his music and sound collages using turntable and old records, and films with rhythmic editing of classical movie clips. For the artist's sculptures, he also explores the phenomenon of sound with image. Now, instead of focusing on the works he is best known for, my review focuses on two of his sculpture pieces.  

On view from now until October 7th is his new solo show at Paula Cooper Gallery- Christian Marclay: Phones.  This exhibition showcases sculpture, video, photography and work on paper, all of which are produced in the early to mid-90s.  


CHRISTIAN MARCLAY
Boneyard, 1990
Installation view
hydrostone casts of telephone receivers, in 750 parts
dimensions variable: each receiver approximately 2 x 9 1/2 x 2/34 inches (5.0 x 24.1 x 6.9 centimeters)
© Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. 

In "Boneyard," 1990, the gallery floor is littered by pieces of telephone receiver-speakers, this piece conveys a sense of repetition that often appears in his music and film.  Whereas in Marclay's music and film, the repetition becomes a motif, however, in this work the multiple pieces of the same object suggest the idea of excess. In a 2003 interview,** Marclay comments on an aspect of the American culture as the abundance of production that results the prevalence of waste. Then, he goes on to point out that this prevalence makes one thinks about objects differently. In the contemporary context, this piece also reminds one of the rapid technological growth in telecommunication that, makes old devices obsolete. And, compared to our digital mobile phones, these analogue telephones become fossilized and antiquated.  

In his music and film compositions, sampling and spliced clips make the work to create repetition and motif. Likewise, "Boneyard,"1990 visually presents a repetition with ready-mades. The half pieces of telephones, without wires and base units convey the idea of lost connection and miscommunication. As if the past is distantly remote from the present, the memory of these things' existence is broken and fragmented.


CHRISTIAN MARCLAY
Extended Phone II, 1994 
telephone and plastic tubing dimensions variable
© Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. 



CHRISTIAN MARCLAY
Extended Phone II, 1994 
telephone and plastic tubing dimensions variable
© Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. 

On the note of miscommunication, the physical appearance of "Extended Phone II," 1994 coincides with this idea of delivering an unclear message. Meaning (and if you will, stay with me, and pretend this isn't an art piece in a gallery), when I speak into one end of this telephone and being on the receiving end, should you expect to hear me clearly without interference?  Of course, this piece is conceptual and it is an art work after all, let's treat it as one. The piece consists of a long plastic tubing, almost garden hose like, and with a black telephone on both ends. Every component of the piece is of ordinary material that can be found in common households, however, the bizarre combination makes it appear quite alienated from the ordinary.  

As Marclay points out in another interview-* that he makes no distinction between pop-culture and high art. When the common object is integrated into an art form and placed in an art gallery, it becomes a social commentary and the conceptual element becomes the emphasis. Similar to how Marclay appropriates sound clips from old records and clips from classical movies, the appropriation of the plastic tubing and the telephone composes a different idea from its original function. The absurd presentation of a telephone attached to a long tube delivers a message that points to the fact that, the speaker's voice and meaning are always obstructed and likely to be interpreted differently on the receiving end, whether due to technological malfunction or the "malfunction" of the receiver's auditory receptor.

As I've said from the beginning, my article only focuses on the two sculptures in the Christian Marclay: Phones exhibition currently taking place at Paul Cooper Gallery. Other works include, a single-channel video called "Telephones," 1995 (which, Marclay did as a sketch for his Video Quartet, 2002,) a collage work on paper-"Untitled," 1994. For those who are not familiar with the Marclay's practice outside of sound and music, this show is worth the time to check out.

*Douglas Kahn and Christian Marclay, Christian Marclay's Early Years: An Interview, Leonardo Music Journal, Vol. 13, Groove, Pit and Wave: Recording, Transmission and Music (2003), pp. 17-2.

** Ben Neill and Christian Marclay, Christian Marclay, BOMB, 84 (Summer, 2003), pp. 44-51. 



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