Swiss American artist Christian Marclay specialises in transformation. Ingrained in his works is an exploration of the changing nature of language within immersive, performative and visual art. This weekend, Switzerland’s Aargauer Kunsthaus opened a solo exhibition of his latest works, Action. The exhibition holds both a fully functioning Japanese teahouse, and an immersive, space-activating video animation Surround Sounds.
Emerging in New York in the late seventies, Marclay came to be a fixture of the East Village music scene, becoming renowned as one of the pioneers of turntablism, AKA scratching records during a DJ set. Being one of the founders of this new, avant-garde method, Marclay has received international recognition for his sound-based collages, and since then, has been making his mark on the art world, producing videos, sculptures, paintings and photographs.
In Action, Marclay explores the onomatopoetic potential of written words via vibrant collages. Aaaaahhh (2006) is a collage of pigment print on Arches paper, torn into three differently coloured segments. On the first segment is the back end of a human head, with a prominent little ear. The head sits tensely, as capital letters explode in a horizontal line next to it, spilling over onto the next few sheets. Looking at the image, sound leaps out from the page to the viewer – “Aaaaahhh!!” echoing silently around us as we view the image. Marclay’s set up of the letters next to the human ear is used as a demonstrative method, showing how intensely we hear with our eyes.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, Marclay has commissioned architects to create a full-scale Japanese teahouse. This pavilion-like structure will play host to vocal interpretations of the works the Manga Scroll (2010) and Zoom Zoom (2007-2015), and talks on a variety of themes within Marclay’s works including image and sound, the language of the comic, and Japan. It will hold traditional Japanese tea ceremonies too.
The exhibition attaches particular importance to the transformation of language and sound in images and performance, and in doing so is in keeping with his early intuition – never to put too much trust in the veracity of language.
Christian Marclay: Action is showing at Aargauer Kunsthaus until 15 November.