Designing for Christian Marclay's The Clock
Skip to main content

Designing for Christian Marclay's The Clock

Installation view of The Clock, 2010. White Cube Masonʼs Yard, London (October 15 – November 13, 2010) © Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York and White Cube, London. Photo: Todd-White Photography

Despite being called a “tour de force,” “monumental,” and even “Wagnerian,” the premise of Christian Marclay’s The Clock is very basic. The movie is 24 hours long and features thousands of clips from other movies, each clip featuring a clock or a watch or a timepiece. Each clip is ordered as to play at exactly the same time of day as featured in the particular film, therefore operating as something of a giant clock itself, running all day and all night, always in sync. It’s a fascinating experiment with time.

As a designer working on the exhibition’s marketing materials, I was used to being presented with a batch of images to work with. But as hugely popular as The Clock has been, there have only been a few images ever released. An obvious reason is that any particular moment in the film would simply look like the particular film it was excerpting, leading one to the conclusion that The Clock might be impossible to capture an image of. Another reason might be the thousands of film rights that were never collected in the making of this cinematic collage, complicated even further when used for marketing purposes. Marclay’s response to this: “If you make something good and interesting and not ridiculing someone or being offensive, the creators of the original material will like it.”

Going for a typographic solution seemed necessary, not only because of the limited amount of imagery available, but also because it would seem very arbitrary and reductive to use five film stills from a movie made of more than 2,073,600 consecutive frames, with no consistent narrative nor leading characters in it.


Final designs

It’s interesting to think of The Clock as an anti-movie, not only because of its extensive format but also for its “anti-entertaining” qualities. Typically, a film spectator goes to the theatre to escape time or reality, but when watching The Clock, you instead focus quite specifically on the passage of time, in real time. A sort of memento mori. The Clock is no Hollywood production to be watched at the Egyptian Theater, but a challenging and meditative artist film screened in museums where people catch some parts of it sitting on very rudimentary Ikea couches.

Some early sketches proposed the idea of an “anti-trailer,” in a very dry sense of communication, even “spoiling” the whole movie on the inside of the postcard with a count of every minute in a single day, basically the full script of The Clock.

The “anti-trailer” sketches.


This idea was later dismissed in favor of a different concept in the design, where textual description is abandoned over a system that would allow the design to have its independence. This graphic system was meant to be deployed on invitations and informations cards, posters, a title wall, and a few other collateral applications such as badges.



After examining a wide selection of typefaces to use, mostly looking for geometric typefaces, the choice was set on Neuzeit Grotesk, designed by Wilhelm C. Pischner in 1932. It’s modest appearance seemed to fit the idea of emphasizing a system over one strong appearance.

The postcard is totally oversized compared to what usual postcards are. It measures 12 × 12 inches when unfolded, referring to Christian Marclay’s early records cut-and-paste works or LP covers collages and other works using vinyls as primary material.


Intermediary sketches.


Emma and Dave (of Discover Signs) installing the title wall at the entrance of the gallery.


As Marclay, I grew up in Switzerland. One of the only 24/7 grocery store chain’s logo was in some corner of my mind as a good example of how to represent a continuous activity through the day


You can mostly find these shops in train stations where you can see the iconic clock designed by Hans Hilfiker in the 1940s. The Swiss Railway clock would stop for two seconds, for technical reasons first, but also “to give you a break and anticipate the forthcoming minute”, and then start again with its two bold hands ticking the new minute.

Then, using the “L”, the central letter of the words “the” and ”clock” put together, became an obvious solution. The two words merge into one single “image”, embedding the dynamic system in itself, as would be the title of Marclay’s artwork being at the same time the modest name and the “container” of the concept for this 24-hour movie.


Christian Marclay’s The Clock is on view in the Burnet Gallery at the Walker Art Center until August 25. Some extended screenings are scheduled, check here for more informations.

Get Walker Reader in your inbox. Sign up to receive first word about our original videos, commissioned essays, curatorial perspectives, and artist interviews.