When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.
The history of art could be summed up as the visualization of what cannot be visualized. It is a history of ideas, a tracing of cultures and societal considerations recorded in unique objects and images, that exist purely as a record of those concerns. The expanding fields of contemporary art, that push the boundaries of what was originally determined ‘fine art’ has broadened the sphere of what is possible in visual representation. Performance and happening, sound art, installations and environments stray away from the traditional form of the flat canvas, or figurative sculpture. But photography seems to bring us back there again, like the ouroboros who forever eats its own tail, technological advances in art seem to return us back to the time of Parrhasius and Zeuxis; fooling both the birds and then the other artist with the realism of their painting. With photography, there is no need to be fooled, the photograph IS reality. The light exposed onto the film, or in this case the digital imaging, captures the real object at its real moment in time. It is a freezing of reality, a “that-has-been”, as Barthes put it.
This novelty of photography has long worn off, and it is increasingly a challenge to photographers to use photography as a means to do more than simply record that which has been. In his show Things I’ve Heard photographer Christian Marclay plays a funny trick on the visual reality of the photograph. He uses it to represent sound. A series of simple, colorful snapshots, Marclay’s series captures a wide array of objects that each attempt to capture sound, or more often, the sound of silence.
Marclay views photography as simply another means of recording. As sound is recorded, so is the image. Both operate as a means of aiding memory, of preserving that which is temporally outside our grasp. Marclay is an artist continually shifting the boundaries between what we think of as sound, art and music. He is one of the early pioneers of using records and turntables to create “sound collages”, his more highbrow term for mixing. This mixing of high and low culture is what makes his work so accessible. The photographs are simple in style, unpretentious, taken like personal snapshots they don’t aspire to art photography. They remind me in their simplicity of the photographs of Richard Wentworth, and his daily recording of the uses and inspiration to be found in everyday objects in his neighborhood of Kings Road in London.
Marclay is an artist whose career is full of attempts to capture and pin down the effervescent. His 24 hour film “the Clock” compiles thousands of time related clips from the history of cinema using the most artificial social construction- cinema, to reveal the artificial, man-made nature of time itself, and its dissemination into segments of days, and hours and minutes. It is currently on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from April 6th through June 2nd, 2013.