Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Christian Marclay - Fluxus Leftovers- INTERVIEWS


You have never heard art like this before – a survey of pioneering turntablist, musician and video artist CHRISTIAN MARCLAY is a summer exhibition highlight, PAUL ANDREW writes.

Herald of the punk revolution Patti Smith once described
the legendary New York rock venue CBGB as more than
just a club; she said it was a state of mind. 

During its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s that seedy dive with sticky carpet on The Bowery was the crucible for sonic revolutionaries like The Ramones,Talking Heads,
Blondie, Television and for Smith herself who
transformed rock into hypnotic chaos. It was also the
stamping ground for video artist and musician Christian

Punk was the quantum shift that helped us to hear
music differently, and it is through this same state of
mind that Marclay helps us to see and feel music differently. He has orchestrated an extraordinary body of work comprising
turntable performances, videos and music sampling
spanning three decades. Magically fusing music and image,
whether it’s spinning discs, destroying discs, videoing discs
or making a symphony from gunshots.

According to the artist, “MTV is dead.” 

Marclay himself draws from art history, rather than pop music when it comes to “seeing sound”. He counts the Fluxus artists like Joseph Beuys and performance artists John Cage, Laurie
Anderson, Dan Graham and godfather of video art Nam June Paik among his key influences.

As a young art student with a passion for collecting vinyl
Marclay relocated from Switzerland to New York with
his parents during the mid 1970s. The punk scene was
nascent. He cut his teeth at new music venues like CBGB,
preferring the raw energy of iconoclastic beats in small dark
clubs rather than the staid white tenor of traditional art
venues, museums and galleries.

“To me the new music at this time was punk. Seeing
people making music and sounds happen in small clubs
and experiencing music through their bodies. It gave me
the opportunity to make music myself, I thought, if these
people can make music, I can make music too. You didn’t
have to repeat the music of your parents; you could turn
rock‘n’roll upside down. It wasn’t the fashion, it was the
sounds. I never had a Mohawk or safety pins; I could go to
clubs like CBGB, DNA, and MARS and see bands.

“When I started using video I was interested in the way
that sounds could look, I used turntables to cut up sounds,
used samples from films. I used vinyl records as objects
that could make sounds themselves, not just the sounds
recorded. Breaking them, smashing them, walking on
them, bending them. And video allowed me to document
these sounds.”

“After I moved to New York I was surprised at the amount
of vinyl I could find very cheaply, at thrift shops, absolute mountains of it. I had grown up with records, collected them treasured them, they were sacred to me. Yet in the States no
one seemed to want them anymore. Vinyl was disposable. So
I started collecting. I used vinyl in my performances and
video. It was a time when music was being mass-produced,
and vinyl seemed to be losing its sacred, magic quality.
In 1979 when I smashed vinyl it was a big thing, it said
something big. Not so much now.”

Fluxmix (2005) is a recent work that plays on this idea of
breathing life into objects. And Marclay is chuffed that it
has been included in the Melbourne exhibition. “There
wasn’t enough room for this huge piece in the recent Paris
version of Replay. It’s very large scale, 160 objects, 16
monitors in a circle, like a ceremonial circle."

“I had the opportunity to work with the leftovers from Fluxus
performance art preserved at the Walker Art Centre. But
in this museum situation, I had to use white gloves to
handle all these objects, which were now fragile, precious
and behind glass. Commodities rather than inexpensive,
everyday objects they once were. He says humbly, “I was
able to make sounds from these things, and for a moment
put some new life into them”.

Replay is on at ACMI until 3rd February

Exhibition Finished


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