Christian Marclay’s Traps and Portals

Christian Marclay, Doors, 2022, single-channel video installation, colour and black & white, continuous loop. © the artist. Courtesy White Cube

Doors at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London presents in characteristic video montage sites for human action and emotion

Unless you’re an architect, an interior designer, a carpenter or a locksmith, you probably don’t think much about doors. They’re just there. Functional things that mark our progress out of caves. They keep things out and keep things in. They mark the liminal space between public and private. And in respect to the latter, the marker of a space that most consider inviolable. Not so Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay on the evidence here. Like his celebrated The Clock (2010), Doors (2022) is a collaged video montage that draws on hundreds of individual movie clips.

By the end of it you start to think of doors as sites for human action and emotion: charging, bursting, creeping, key fumbling, screaming, slamming, chasing, fear, horror and love. And of course the straightforward negotiations of closing and opening. Watching Doors you start to notice them as sonic instruments, things that creak, groan and bang. Locks (there are lots of them) become like tuning forks, how they resonate setting the scene. There are doors that sound (slightly flimsy) like they’re part of a stage set and those that sound like something attached to brick and mortar or concrete. They’re sites of ritual (hat on, hat off; coat on, coat off, depending on which way you’re going) and refuge. They’re sites of surprise (you never know exactly what opening one is going to reveal). Even when some scenes repeat (Sidney Poitier angrily bursting into a corridor of white students who look at him suspiciously, presumably extracted from To Sir, with Love, 1967). Given that the clips – stitched together so elegantly that you begin to feel the world is full of doors and life is just a transition from one space to the next – are all, in one way or another, narrative or editing devices (cut shots) in the movies from which they were sourced, you begin to imagine them as essential generators of narrative. And the essential role that curiosity, anticipation and the engagement of narrative plays in an audience’s engagement with any artform. While there’s always the underlying knowledge (highlighted by the way in which anxious faces and screams punctuate the work) that any engagement with the unknown has some risk. Or at least kills cats.

Horizontal Cuts (Pink Door), 2023, altered wooden door, 46 × 78 × 17 cm. © the artist. Photo: Theo Christelis. Courtesy White Cube, London

You’re reminded of that on the ground floor of the exhibition (Doors is housed in the basement, here converted into a darkened cinema space), where a series of actual doors and doorframes (often one or the other – which, after watching the video, have a feeling of corpses without heads or heads without corpses) have been reconfigured, diced and sliced. One looks like a sinister makeshift crucifix (Crosscut [Yellow Door], 2023), the creation of some unmentionable cult; another is cross sectioned and stacked to reveal a bees-nest-like structure (Horizontal Cuts [Pink Door], 2023) that now looks like a trap as much as a portal; while other bits of doors are stacked into minimalist totem poles, or sliced to a thin sliver where the focus is on the lock, their emphasis on human dimensions making them all the more creepy. If the emphasis is on people and doors downstairs, then the people are absent and ghostly in what goes on above. While the effect of the sculptures, which hover between the quotidian and the banal, is undoubtedly enhanced by the experience of the video, this is a show that will leave you never looking at doors with the same nonchalance again. If transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary is what you expect art to do, then this is a show that delivers in spades.

Doors at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London, 6–30 September

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