Sound forms the nucleus of much of American artist Christian Marclay’s practice. From innovative sound collages, with turntables and records employed as instruments; to the splicing and reconstituting of physical records to create strange, jumping concoctions of melodies, Marclay plays with and expands our notions of noise and sonority. However, his interest in sound does not end with the audible—it extends into the two-dimensional and, one might presume, silent realm of printmaking. One particularly innovative print project from 1996 involved postering Berlin with over 5,000 sheets of blank music-manuscript paper, leaving the city’s inhabitants and passersby to scrawl their own invented compositions onto the empty staves. Marclay then collected and published selections of these sheets as “graffiti compositions.” He activates the medium of print by opening it up to the multiple possible interpretations and inscriptions of sound.
A pertinent example of how Marclay has continued to explore this artistic mode can be found in MoMA’s recently acquired cyanotype Allover (Genesis, Nightnoise, Travis Tritt, and Others) (2008), which will be on display from June 13, 2012, through January 7, 2013, as part of the New to the Print Collection: Matisse to Bourgeois installation in MoMA’s Prints and Illustrated Books Galleries.
In 2008, in collaboration with the university-based workshop Graphicstudio (in Tampa, Florida), Marclay produced six series in the medium of cyanotype, a process, also known as blueprint, that was developed in the 19th century by the botanist Anna Atkins. When objects are placed directly onto a sheet of chemically coated light-sensitive paper, a silhouette materializes in the form of a vivid blue photogram; the tonal densities fluctuate according to the object’s opacity, almost like an X-ray. Taking this simple process as a starting point, Marclay unwound the spools of old cassette tapes and proceeded to “draw” with the reams of tape. Often using multiple exposures, Marclay creates a labyrinth of lines, all tracing a distinct musical history that becomes abstracted, or at least estranged, on paper. Each unraveled song is inscribed onto the sheet, leaving a graphic outline, or a kind of footprint of sound. The vortex of lines evokes the abstract gestures of 20th-century painters such as Jackson Pollock, while at the same time forging its own specific identity. As the title of the piece suggests, each individual line nods to its particular musical sources. Marclay summons a visual landscape of sound within a sheet; sound in its physical and material form. The tape itself is released from its typical rotary cycle, and it is now propelled across the paper in alternately jolting and fluid gestures. The visual and the sonic are fused, the memory of noise recorded by the very substance from which it was generated. Mediums that have become virtually outmoded in an age of digital technology are reclaimed and regenerated in Marclay’s hands. He blurs the distinctions between sensory perceptions, engaging them in processes of reciprocal transformation—sound encroaches on sight, and sight on sound.