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Christian Marclay - Biography

Christian Marclay is a New York based visual artist and composer whose innovative work explores the juxtaposition between sound recording, photography, video and film. Born in California in 1955 and raised in Geneva (Switzerland). His mother was American so he held a double nationality. He studied at the Ecole Supérieure d'Art Visuel from 1977 - 1980 in Geneva, Switzerland. From 1977 - 1980 he studied sculpture at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. He also studied as a visiting scholar at Cooper Union in New York in 1978. As performer and sound artist Christian Marclay has been experimenting, composing and performing with phonograph records and turntables since 1979 to create his unique "theater of found sound." Christian Marclay was influenced by Marcel Duchamp. Christian Marclay offers a unique, fresh and innovative voice that has inspired an entire generation of musicians, artists and theorists. In 2002 Christian Marclay was a visiting professor of video collage and sound at the European Graduate School.

As a student at the Massachusetts College of Art Christian Marclay developed his interest in performance art and punk rock. It was the music world that inspired him versus the art scene. As Christian says in an interview:

I came to New York in '78 on an exchange program at Cooper Union, and when I went back to Boston I started performing as a duo with guitarist Kurt Henry. I didn't have an instrument so I sang and made these background tapes for the performances. We didn't have a drummer so that's why I started using skipping records and things like that, to produce these rhythm tracks that we'd perform along with. We also used film loops from cartoons and sex films as audio-visual rhythm tracks. It was as much performance art as it was music. In 1980 I organized a festival (Eventworks), to explore the relation and influence of rock music on the art world. I invited people like DNA, Rhys Chatham and Karole Armitage, Dan Graham, Johanna Went, Boyd Rice, Zev to Boston. I showed films by Eric Mitchell, Jack Smith, Vivienne Dick, and others.

Marclay has collaborated with musicians such as John Zorn, Elliott Sharp, Fred Frith, Zeena Parkins, Shelley Hirsh, Christian Wolff, Butch Morris, Otomo Yoshihide, Arto Lindsay, and Sonic Youth among many others. A dadaist DJ and filmmaker his installations and video / film collages display provocative musical and visual landscapes and have been included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art New York, Venice Biennale, Centre Pompidou Paris, Kunsthaus Zurich, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Christian Marclay has been said to be the first non-rap DJ to make an art form out of the turntable, treating the instrument as a means to rip songs apart, not bridge them together. Marclay began his musical exploration that mixes sound and art with performance using turntables in 1979 as a student. Recycled Records (1980-1986), was one of his early peices. The work took fragmented and reassembled records which became objects that could be played, distorting tone and sound. Body Mix (1991-92), is a series he produced that wove together album covers, creating postmodern critques of music and visual culture. One example is Deutsche Grammaphon conductors with the infamous legs of Tina Turner, bringing to light Surrealist ‘Exquisite Corpses’. A key thread throughout Christian Marclay’s work is this transformation of musical objects into visual commentary on culture.

Christian Marclay also works with video. For example in the video Guitar Drag (2000), a Fender Stratocaster is seen being dragged behind a truck on the back roads o Texas. The video has mulitple meanings, it is a referense to the murder of James Byrd Jr. and it is also playing to the rock star guitar destroying scene as well as furthering Christian Marclay’s interest in creation of new forms of sound.

The Sounds of Christmas is put on annually by Christian Marclay. The project combines blatant sentimentality with vanguard experimentation. Distinguishing this music as ‘serious’ in opposition to those that can be seen as both arbitrary and arcane. During the two-week installation in 2004, co-produced with Electra, noted DJs will create live remixes of their own selection from Marclay's Christmas records. These recorded performances will create a soundtrack for the space. The 2004 show was put on by the Tate in London.

Christian Marclay continually works with the idea of deconstructing the record, in sound and theory. He is attempting to bring to light the background deterioration of the vinyl as a medium. Attending to the residual noises that are often lost helps make the listener aware of the medium of vinyl. The materiality of the cheap plastic the music is recorded on. Christian finds creative potential in the recorded glitches that usually are ignored within music. Giving voice to the breaks and scratches within the recorded sound provides an insight into the chaos and undetermined potential of creativity.

Many publications have focused on Christian Marclay’s work including: Gilot, Lorie (Editor), Mathilde Guyon, Maude Marchal, Valerie Mavridorakis, Francoise Ninghetto, David Perreau (Editors). Christian Marclay: Snap! (Presses Du Reel. January 1, 2009), Kelly, Caleb. Cracked Media: The Sound of Malfunction. (The MIT Press. September 30, 2009), Blanche Craig (Editor). Collage: Assembling Contemporary Art. (Black Dog Publishing. September 12, 2008), Marclay, Christian and Claudia Gould (Introduction) and Aaron Igler (Contributor) . Ensemble. (Institute of Contemporary Art. April 1, 2008), Marclay, Christian (Ed.). Christian Marclay: Stereo. (Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, 2008), Marclay, Christian. You dig the tunnel, I’ll hide the soil. (Jay Jopling / White Cube, London, 2008), Marclay, Christian, Kim Gordon, John Armleder (Editor), Mai-Thu Perret (Editor), Amy Granat (Editor). Black Noise. (JRP|Ringier. March 1, 2008), Marclay, Christian. Visionaire No. 53: Sound. (Visionaire Publishing. December 1, 2007), Marclay, Christian. Crossfire. (White Cube. December 2007), Criqui, Jean-Pierre (Editor). Christian Marclay: Replay. (JRP|Ringier. September 1, 2007), Drobnick, Jim (Compiler). Listening Awry: Kimsooja, Christian Marclay, Santiago Sierra, Su-mei Tse., Marclay, Christian. Christian Marclay: Shuffle. (Aperture. June 1, 2007), Gonzalez, Jennifer, Kim Gordon and Matthew Higgs. Christian Marclay. (Phaidon Press. June 1, 2005), Marclay, Christian. Tinsel Peter Norton Family Christmas Project. (Peter Norton Family Foundation. January 1, 2005), Marclay, Christian, Stefano Basilico and Pierre Huyghe (Editors). Cut/Film As Found Object In Contemporary Video. (Milwaukee Art Museum. November 2, 2004), Marclay, Christian, Wilhelm Sasnal, Gillian Wearing. Parkett No. 70: Christian Marclay, Wilhelm Sasnal, Gillian Wearing, Plus Franz West. (Parkett. July 3, 2004), Marclay, Christian and Susan Rosenberg (Editor). Christian Marclay: The Bell And The Glass. (Philadelphia Museum of Art. March 2, 2004), Marclay, Christian and Russell Ferguson (Editor). Christian Marclay. (Steidl. July 2, 2003), Marclay, Christian. Pictures, Patents, Monkeys, And More On Collecting. (Independent Curators International. February 2, 2001), Marclay, Christian. Directions. June 26 - September 30, 1990. (Hirshhorn Museum. 1990),

In 2002 Christian Marclay was a visiting professor of video collage and sound at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he conducted an Intensive Summer Seminar.