Imagine that you are in a room so dark you can’t see your own feet, much less the other bodies around you. The word “POW” bursts on the wall and repeats across the wall surface, continuing around the room as fast as you can turn your head. “CRACK” appears in colorful lettering 3-feet high across the middle of one wall until it splits down the center to reveal “CRACK” in a different comic book font, which ‘cracks’ to reveal “KRACK” in bright outlined letters. This continues like Russian nesting dolls, but you can’t keep your eyes on it because the letter “M” has started replicating around the edge of the floor. You mentally hum in time. Columns of text shoot down across the walls at a diagonal, while out of the corner of your eye you notice a different word pattern jumping to life. You turn. The words are multiplying so much that the room is getting significantly brighter in the light of their projection.
Up at Paula Cooper Gallery through the end of the week, Christian Marclay’s Surround Sounds (2014-15) is a new video work that consists of “animated onomatopoeias”–that is, Marclay animates the noise words from comic books to mimic the actions that they signify. The video is synchronized onto the four walls of the windowless room in an immersive viewing experience that is constantly pulling your attention from one wall to another. Interestingly these words come to life only by the hum of equipment–there is no audio being played. Yet the visual onslaught of the sound words is so overwhelming, I hardly noticed the silence when I was in the gallery this weekend.
Pacing has always kept Marclay’s meta-film artworks (e.g. Telephone, Clock) compulsively watchable, and that’s certainly true here, where words move with the swiftness of a carnival ride. The subject matter is markedly different. Other works spliced film clips together to create a new film about film and the act of watching. Here, video animation of comic book effects muddles the visual and aural senses. If a work like Clock caused you to become aware of time passing as you watched, Surround Sounds strung me along for its almost 14-minutes of word glut and then some, without me being overly aware it had started over and happily entranced in the “WHIRR” and “CLICK.” The exhibition “Christian Marclay: Surround Sounds” is up at Paula Cooper Gallery through October 17. Be forewarned that it’s a fast ride, and watching may cause motion-sickness.