Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


History of Art


This dissertation explores the work of Christian Marclay, a Swiss-American artist whose multivalent practice encompasses sound, performance, installation, sculpture, photography and video. Influenced by the work of Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Fluxus, Vito Acconci and the various underground scenes of New York’s musical landscape including punk, No-Wave and the collaborative jazz of John Zorn, since the late 1970s, Marclay’s artistic practice has explored the power of sound and silence, music and noise to produce and condition individual and collective forms of artistic production and experience. The dissertation addresses the ways that Marclay’s engagement with the category of sound informs his work with vinyl records, his visual practice, his performance and his video installations.

I situate his practice in relation to genealogies of avant-garde aesthetic practice, histories of technology and the political and cultural contexts of the works in question. My analysis attends to the ways that Marclay’s works mobilize acoustic phenomena to establish different types of spatial modalities for critical reflection. These include the material space of his sculptural installations, the visual space of his photographic installations, the social space of his collaborative performances and the televisual space of his video installation. In addressing these spatial concerns, my project accounts for the ways in which these different spatial modalities inform, reflect and intervene into the aesthetic, social and institutional sites of their display, from the gallery and the museum to the ruins of abandoned urban architecture.

The introduction begins with The Bell and the Glass, a multimedia installation staged at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1994, in order to highlight the wide range of media that Marclay incorporates into his practice: sound, video, performance, photography, installation. Chapter one addresses the material space produced in and through Marclay’s transgressive and destructive engagement with the physical media of acoustic technologies. The chapter focuses on two works: Footprints (1989) an installation of vinyl records that line the floor of the gallery and Tapefall (1989), a multimedia sound installation in which a reel to reel tape recorder, perched atop a ladder, plays a spool of tape of the sound of falling water that unwinds onto the floor. Chapter two examines two sets of photographic images, the Body Mix series composed of album covers sutured together to produce a set of monstrous hybrid bodies and faces and Fourth of July, a photographic installation composed of torn up photographs that Marclay had taken at a 4th of July parade in a small Hudson Valley town. I examine the ways that Marclay’s use of the latent violence of the cut, the rip, the tear is deployed to produce historically resonant photographic spaces. Chapter three translates this line of inquiry into an analysis of Berlin Mix, a collaborative performance staged by Marclay in an abandoned trolley shed in Berlin in 1994. The chapter detects a wide range of aesthetic, historical, political and cultural resonances, exploring the ways in which the performance is embedded within the local context of its performance. Chapter four is devoted to an examination of four of Marclay’s video installations, all of which deploy strategies of montage that disfigure cinematic space and that encourage a critical engagement with the technological platforms and spatio-temporal regimes of cinematic and televisual experience