12 April – 24 September 2019

Responding to the context of Barcelona as a centre of experimental music, MACBA explores the work of acclaimed Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay (b. 1955), presenting a selection of works focusing on his sound compositions, from graphic scores to video installations.

The exhibition examines Marclay’s interest in composition, understood as the ordering of sounds in time and space. In his work, however, he undermines our customary relation to the audible, subverting our cultural understanding of sound as well as our phenomenological perception – or sensory experience – of it. Frequently, the exhibition foregrounds silence and the visitor sees rather than hears sound, challenging us to think of sound visually and conceptually.

Fundamental to the exhibition are several major video works, including the masterpiece Video Quartet (2002), a four-screen, audiovisual composition made from movie clips, the only work shown that uses sound directly. The excerpts feature moments when music or sound occurs in feature films, which Marclay collages together so that each screen features a different clip that is carefully synchronised with others to form an overall musical quartet.

In the interactive installation Chalkboard (2010), Marclay invites visitors to participate in the act of composing by marking an architecturally-scaled chalkboard ruled with musical staff lines. This open, incremental and evolving composition is then interpreted by musicians in a series of performances scheduled during the exhibition. Afterwards, the board is erased, and the process restarted until the next performance.

The exhibition includes several of Marclay’s ‘graphic scores’, such as Zoom Zoom (2007–19), a slide projection, and Manga Scroll (2010), a 20m hand scroll. Both works are part of an extended investigation into onomatopoeia – words that replicate the sounds or actions that they describe.

The most recent work in the exhibition, Investigations (2018), reflects Marclay’s interest in photography and non-traditional use of classical instruments. This score was made from a collection of 100 found images of hands playing the piano. The score is to be interpreted by a large ensemble of pianists, who are asked to decipher the sound made when the photograph was taken.

Through his compositions, Marclay plays with and subverts our everyday experience of sound. His work makes us think again about our cultural, emotional and sensory relationship to our visual and sonic environment.

Performances and guided activities related to the exhibition will take places throughout April, May and June 2019.

Curator: Tanya Barson

Surround Sounds (2014-15) © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Hannah Burton)