New York

Christian Marclay

Midwifed by the entrepreneurial George Maciunas in New York in the early ’60s, the eclectic, electrifying din of Fluxus performance continues in somewhat subdued form to this day but is most often confined to a staid world of reverential museum surveys. The antimovement’s alteration and destruction of musical instruments and ritual reenactments of daily activities like cutting hair and cooking exist now in the form of documentary photographs and Super-8 film, while the found objects used in the process have achieved the status of holy relics, preserved in institutional archives around the world. One of the largest such repositories is at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where New York–based Christian Marclay is currently artist in residence and where he produced Shake, Rattle and Roll (fluxmix), 2004, a room-size video installation that was the centerpiece of this exhibition.

Against a seamless white backdrop and clothed in matching archivist’s gloves, Marclay’s hands appear as if in a laboratory, systematically exploring the auditory potential of several hundred objects from the Walker’s Fluxus holdings and its collection of Joseph Beuys multiples. In addition to shaking, rattling, and rolling these things, Marclay also taps, claps, scrapes, unfolds, and drops the objects of his analysis, which include a hot plate; an alarm clock; various plastic toys; and George Brecht’s Water Yam, 1963–65, a plastic box of ninety-eight printed cards detailing various actions and instructions. Presented in ten- to fifteen-minute segments on sixteen monitors, the individual actions are often hilariously absurd (witness the determined shaking received by a plastic fern) while the overall ambiance, with its ever-shifting combinations of sound, more seriously revives the chance-dependent Cageian aesthetics of those early productions. Likewise the source material resonates with the other side of Marclay’s bifurcated career, his improvised and collaborative musical performances, DJ sets using altered turntables, and consistent misappropriation of found records. For an artist known for free-associative riffs on the links between music, noise, and art history, the opportunity to root around in the Walker’s storage rooms must have turned Marclay into the proverbial kid in candy store.

The placement of the work’s multiple monitors—they rest facing inward on pedestals forming a twenty-nine-and-a-half-foot circle at the center of a darkened room—is strongly reminiscent of another audio installation, Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet, 2001. Both works prompt movement: Stand in the middle of the circle (which in the Cardiff’s case is formed by speakers) and you’re bathed in a 360-degree wash of undifferentiated noise; walk toward any one component and individual sounds begin to emerge. This particular (and changing) relationship of sound to space runs counter to other works by Marclay such as Telephones, 1995, Up and Out, 1998, and Video Quartet, 2002, each of which focuses instead on the musical or (mis-) communicative potential of sound and is presented in a relatively familiar format (using either a single monitor or a wall-size video projection). As the critic Philip Sherburne recently pointed out, Marclay has not, to date, been a “sound artist” in the vein of contemporaries Stephen Vitiello and Richard Chartier, both of whom adopt a quasi-phenomenological approach to the exploration of noise. Shake, Rattle and Roll may be Marclay’s rejoinder to that assessment, an attempt to prove that he, too, can conjure an engaging spatial experience. He succeeds in part, yet for all his manifest effort the installation remains somewhat inert. It appears that the tendency of the museum or archive to ossify its contents may be too powerful a force to counteract. If Video Quartet, an ecstatic amalgamation of lovingly edited film clips praised by critics and adored by audiences, was intended for a room full of joyous dancers, Shake, Rattle and Roll is best enjoyed by a crowd of chin strokers and head nodders.

Brian Sholis