Over the past 35 years, Christian Marclay has explored the fusion of fine art and audio cultures, transforming sounds and music into a visible, physical form through performance, collage, sculpture, installation, photography and video.
Marclay began his exploration into sound and art through performances with turntables in 1979, while he was still a student. Early work includes a series of ‘Recycled Records’ (1980-86), fragmented and reassembled vinyl records that became hybrid objects that could be played, replete with abrupt leaps in tone and sound. For his ‘Body Mix’ series (1991-92), he stitched together album covers into works to create strange phantasms of music and culture – such as Deutsche Grammaphon conductors with the slender legs of Tina Turner – that bring to mind Surrealist ‘Exquisite Corpses’. This transformation of musical instruments or objects to create visual puns is an essential component of Marclay’s work. Virtuoso (1999), for instance, features an accordion with its bellows elongated to more than seven metres. This playfulness with sound and image is also a feature of his ‘Snapshots’, an ongoing, informal series of photographs that depict elements of sound and onomatopoeia that the artist discovers in everyday situations.
Over the last decade, Marclay has created ambitious work in a variety of media. The video Guitar Drag (2000) features a Fender Stratocaster being dragged behind a pick-up truck along rough country roads in Texas. While on one level the work is an expression of Marclay’s interest in creating a new sound, it is also a nod to the guitar-destroying antics of rock stars as well as a reference to the murder of James Byrd Jr., an African-American man dragged to his death behind a pick-up truck. Video Quartet (2002), a four-screen projection featuring hundreds of clips from old Hollywood films, with actors and musicians making sound or playing instruments, represents a high point of his vision, an elaborate audio-visual collage that evokes pop culture, appropriation art and sampling. Marclay used a similar technique with Crossfire (2007), a four-screen video installation that surrounds the viewer with clips of actors handling and discharging guns directly at the viewer. The work is at once a musical composition, with the gunfire creating a powerfully rhythmic soundtrack, and an incisive re-imagining of one of cinema’s most common tropes.