Christian Marclay at Paula Cooper

Christian Marclay at Paula Cooper
Art in America
June, 2000
p. 128


It is a dark and stormy night, and a man hustles to a phone booth and furtively dials. Cut to another man, also dialing, the motion of his hand betraying a certain anxiety. Cut to a succession of others, many of whom are immediately recognizable--Cary Grant, Tippi Hedren, Ray Milland, Meg Ryan, Humphrey Bogart--dialing or stabbing Touch-Tones in various states of expectation. Drawn into this anticipatory mood, we are startled when, in the next shot, a phone actually rings--as, in real life, when we are jolted by that unexpected call.

Cleverly conceived and artfully edited, Christian Marclay's 7 1/2-minute video, Telephones, comprises a succession of brief film clips that creates a humorous narrative of its own in which the characters, in progression, dial, hear the phone ring, pick it up, converse, react, say goodbye and hang up. In doing so, they express a multitude of emotions--surprise, desire, anger, disbelief, excitement, boredom--ultimately leaving the impression that they are all part of one big conversation.

The piece moves easily back and forth in time, as well as between color and black and white, aided by Marclay's whimsical ideas of continuity. A shot of a woman decked out in '70s tiger-print regalia is followed by one of Whoopie Goldberg talking on a zebra-striped phone, or a man saying "I haven't been able to think or concentrate on anything but you" leads to another man's perplexed reaction: "I see," he says. It's interesting to observe that the individual orchestral soundtracks are successful in creating a mood even in such minute segments, and Marclay uses them, along with the other inherent effects--dialing, ringing, beeping, voices, the receiver being dropped or slammed down--to create a rhythmic tone poem, The piece also conveys the sense of alienation and frustration that can occur when talking to people who are not actually present. "If I could just see you, talk to you" a woman importunes her lover, forgetting that she is, in fact, talking to him.

Made in 1995 and shown at the `99 Venice Biennale as well as other venues in Europe, the video is in line with many of Marclay's other endeavors as sculptor, performance artist, musician and DJ in that it is a collage of existing material. Telephones ends, as it begins, in a phone booth, as the camera pans away from Barbara Stanwyck saying "Hello, hello" to someone who has already hung up. E-mail will never be so evocative.



-Carol Diehl

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