Onstage or in the galleries, on screen or on turntables, Christian Marclay’s work methodically blurs the line between what is to be heard and what is to be seen. Since the early 1980s, he has honed his command of production and distribution formats (sound tracks, film, sculpture, installation, photography, publications). His samplings of sounds and readymade images have—with a loving disrespect for a tradition inaugurated by Marcel Duchamp, the Futurists, and members of Fluxus—eroded the validity of artistic disciplines and challenged codes of representation.
To this end, he decided to make music with the Fluxus works and to film himself handling each one and revealing its potential for sound. As he caresses, shakes, or drops the little relics of a past utopia, Marclay is both reviving and desanctifying these objects—desacralizing insofar as he attacks not only the museum as institution, but also the physical integrity of the items in question. But entwined with this is a reactivating process, as evidenced by the quasi-clinical aesthetic of Marclay’s film (white background, white gloves, white shirt), and the quasi-medical care with which he manipulates these deaf and silent objects.
Deliberately touching on absurdity, Marclay reiterates the urgent call to “stop making sense” reminiscent of the historical avant-gardes as well as of the punk attitude. By opening its doors to it, the museum had turned Fluxus into the fossilized icon of a bygone freedom of spirit, in spite of the fact that this movement always seemed to prefer liberation (a process) over liberty (an ideal). In the end, when Marclay extracts a plaintive sound from Vautier’s chamber pot, he may be inviting us, through an absurdist detour, to stay alert.