Marclay topples the cult of the DJ

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August 9, 2004 // UPDATED 2:56 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Holly Day
Holly Day

Audio-visual artist spins art -- and gives the Teletubbies a run for their money

Simply calling Walker Art Center Artist in Residence Christian Marclay a "deejay" (as the artist refers to himself) doesn't cover what this man does with music. He literally chops up vinyl and glues the pieces back together. He invites people to stomp all over records, sectioning out the best pieces to splice together for his own recordings. He simultaneously spins dozens of albums that don't belong together -- and somehow he makes it all work.

The experimental sound-mixer-masher has been hailed as the most influential non-rap DJ of our time -- he is credited with being among the first turntablists to turn a record player into an actual and legitimate instrument as far back as the '70s. He is also widely renowned for his sculptures and video installations that blur the line between audio and visual works.

Lucky for us, the New Yorker's Twin Cities time culminates in two free August events: a Loring Park concert, Monday, Aug. 23, and a thought-provoking yet family-friendly video installation at Franklin Art Works in South Minneapolis.

Under the name djTRIO, Marclay will perform with fellow New York City turntable artists DJ Olive and Toshio Kajiwara as part of the Walker's "Music and Movies in the Park" series. (The spinning starts at 7 p.m., prior to the screening of "The Magnificent Seven," starring Steve McQueen.)

Don't expect your standard Downtown DJ fare. Amidst mosquitoes and in the August heat, djTRIO will create a dizzying tonal collage from dozens of records, turning all kinds of sounds -- including the skips and bumps of patched-together vinyl -- into music.

"djTRIO was created as a reaction to the cult of the deejay," said Marclay, the only "official" trio member, with the two other spots rotating among available artists.

"Deejays tend to be solo artists with big egos. I think it is important to play with others to develop musically. Musicians should be able to play with others, and deejays are musicians, too, therefore they should also be able to play in an ensemble," he said.

"Collaborators will surprise you in ways you could never imagine just playing by yourself. You never know what may happen. A record will skip and a new world appears. The challenge is to go with it and let it lead you where you have never gone before."

While the musical performance is a Walker-sponsored event, Marclay's sculptures and video-visual art are the primary reason for his residency at this esteemed museum/institution. However, even in Marclay's more permanent works, what you hear is as important as what you see.

The fruit of Marclay's residency, the video exhibit "Shake Rattle and Roll," is now on exhibit at

Franklin Art Works, 1021 Franklin Ave. E. (since the 725 Vineland Pl. Walker is closed for a year for renovations).

In my vision of a perfect world, all television shows featuring large, purple, singing dinosaurs and/or alien creatures with computer monitors in their rotund bellies are replaced by round-the-clock showings of "Shake Rattle and Roll."

Take a small child to see this video exhibit, which runs through Sunday, Aug. 14, and you'll know just what I mean. I dare any child under 5 to not be completely spellbound by the repeated video loops of metal pieces dropping, boxes opening, balls bouncing and alarm clocks being wound and rung.

Of course, this exhibit appeals to culture-savvy adults as well. And for the attention-impaired of any age, it changes every minute.

The exhibit consists of 16 video monitors arranged in a circle; each shows a continuous loop of 10 different objects from the Walker's Fluxus art collection being manipulated by Marclay's white-gloved hands. Each video is about 10 to 15 minutes long, and since the tapes repeat at different intervals, the viewer never confronts the same sequence twice.

During the four hours spent videotaping "Shake Rattle and Roll," Marclay adhered to museum policy and only handled Fluxus items with white gloves while wearing a white shirt in order to protect the objects from skin oils and dirt. (Not as obvious from the exhibit tapes is the fact that Marclay isn't wearing any pants -- or, so he says.)

Not only did the Walker allow Marclay to handle the normally hands-off works of art, but to tap, rub, knock and roll sounds out of them.

"This is a very unusual situation. I wanted to comment on and push the limits of these conservation rules," Marclay said.

The Fluxus objects Marclay plays with are the product of an anti-authoritarian 1960s art movement whose artists, such as Joseph Beuys, were action-oriented and against the commodification of art objects.

"Originally, there was a great sense of play with these objects. They are often fun and humorous,"

Marclay said.

"These things were often given away, or sold very cheap, meant as art for the masses. Now, 40 years later, these object have become collectors' items, they have entered the history of art, they are precious and are cared for by museums around the world. Their status as fun, irrespectful objects has been usurped by the musefication, and they are now dead, in the sense that they can't be played with, interacted with -- they have been embalmed."

In the video, Marclay notes, the white gloves end up looking like magicians' or mime's gloves, lending a sense of magic and performance as Marclay methodically --slowly and even-paced -- winds an alarm clock, bangs a brightly painted doll on a toy xylophone or clicks a box open and shut.

The large Franklin Art Works space fills with clicks, pops and bells that mix and intermingle to form what feel like naturally occurring patterns.

"It's a random composition, but a composition nonetheless," Marclay said. "One can listen to it for a long time and always get surprising overlaps."

Thus the artist brings filed-away works, along with the turntable, out to play once again.