My Experience Experiencing “The Clock” by Kate Purdy

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There are few days anymore that I long to be kissed and cuddled. Saturday, July 25th 2015, was one of those days.

While parking my car outside LACMA, at 10:45am, I imagined the energetic presence of a lover in my passenger seat. Someone I would’ve spent the morning in bed with – fifty percent of our skin touching. My imaginary lover would’ve been reluctant, but willing, to come see Christian Marclay’s twenty-four hour montage about our collective relationship to time for my friend’s birthday. He would’ve wanted to hang out in bed longer – silently protesting my insistence we get up by wearing yesterday’s clothes, not combing his hair, and demanding we stop for coffee. I would’ve found this annoyingly charming. We would’ve made out in the car a little before putting money in the meter and heading into the museum to find whichever building the piece was screening in.

But there are benefits to going to museums alone.

On my way to the ticket counter I impetuously stopped in the museum cafeteria and hit the salad bar. I didn’t have to explain this decision to anyone. Why was I hungry, we just ate? I don’t know, I just was.

I was the first person to dig that long-handled, black, plastic, serving spoon into the mound of quinoa – perfectly shaped through the pressure of plastic wrapping. There was no line to pay. Nearly every seat was open. And I ate almost entirely in peace – except for a child, a boy, who approached me. He touched my purse, and asked me a question in a language I didn’t understand. I said, “What’s that?” thinking maybe I misheard him. Suddenly self-aware, he grew embarrassed, and ran back to his grandmother. She cradled his head and laughed. I smiled.

I decided I didn’t want my spinach and left.

In line for the exhibit, I saw my last lover. This was a strange coincidence. We pretended not to see each other. Or I pretended not to see him. I don’t know if he was pretending not to see me. His hair was mussed and it looked like he might be wearing yesterday’s clothes.

Down the line a bit, I saw another person I knew – a woman who sold her zines at a crafts fair I held on my patio earlier this summer. We had bonded over a drawing she did of a lady trimming her pubic hair while sitting on the toilet. I do this. I didn’t know anyone else did this. In that moment I felt less alone in the world.

In this moment, in the lobby for “The Clock,” she and I made that kind of sustained eye contact where you are simultaneously looking at each other and through each other – wondering if the other person sees you and remembers you, or if they’re looking past you and don’t remember you. Neither of us said anything.

Sometimes moments are just moments in time.

Maybe they always are.

I looked up the definition for Cosmology on my phone (research for a project).

Just ahead of me, a couple in their late 60s caught my attention. They seemed to be newly in love. Her gray, wavy hair was in a bob. She wore a black sundress with white piping, and dark framed glasses. He was mostly memorable for fading into her. He couldn’t take his eyes from her. She was his light source – her presence subsumed him. He seemed to exist merely to demonstrate how amazing she was, and she seemed comfortable being his sun.

They must be old enough to know eventually she’ll fail to be the idea of who he thinks she is.

In the coming months, if not sooner, he’ll grow disenchanted and turn away from her, to search for a new sun – someone who matches the image of the thing he carries around inside him – this idea of a woman who can make him feel whole.

But what he doesn’t know, is that woman doesn’t exist.

And he’ll just keep attaching himself to false suns until he dies, or gets too badly burned to keep trying.

Meanwhile, the museum guards were congregating. Something was being decided. Accustomed to quietly standing in corners, they hesitantly stepped forward to give us direction. They happened to all be middle-aged, black women. One said, “I’m going to need y’all to clear the lobby and stand outside in two lines – one for members and one for non-members.”

None of us moved. No one wanted to move. A system was in place; no one wanted to change the system.

She repeated herself.

This time an older white man stepped forward and said, “We can’t understand you.”

She smiled and looked back to her co-workers as if to say, “I told you,” or “Help me,” or “Someone else do this, please.” They stared at her blankly.

She turned to us and repeated herself, again.

This time two more, older white men stepped forward – as if they knew this game – and said, “We can’t understand you.” The woman sighed. She braced herself, and then stepped into us, motioning her hands out the door. “Members,” she pointed to the left, “And Non-Members,” she pointed to the right.

Finally, younger people moved. Then everyone moved.

There’s something about lines that brings to the surface our fourth grade sense of justice. Rules should be fair, clearly stated, enforced, and followed. We’re giving up our autonomy to a greater system, and we need to be able to trust that system. If that system betrays us, it breaks our trust – not only in the system, but in others, and in ourselves (for trusting this untrustworthy system).

Other people are only in charge of us because we allow them to be.

Now outside, I put myself halfway down the Members line.
The people ahead of me turned and asked, “Weren’t you ahead of us?”
“I’m not sure,” I said.
“You were,” they said.
They motioned for me to move ahead – making it harder for me to distrust.

I went back to reading my phone: Apparently, our brains are wired to see patterns whether they exist or not – like how early people made constellations out of the randomness of the night sky.

There was a growing cloud of anger forming to my right, which I was passively ignoring. A young man with long, dark hair and a Prince t-shirt finally asked, “Are you ahead of me, or am I ahead of you?”
I waved him ahead, “I have no idea. Go ahead.”
“No,” he said, “You’re ahead of me. That’s fine.”
“Okay. Thanks,” I said, and returned to my phone.
He slid down the wall and opened his tome of Art History.

The guards were huddling again. They’d received another message. I don’t know from where, or from whom. They approached the Members line. They told us there had been a change of plans and we were to all come inside the lobby again. We filed in – all of us having heard clearly this time (when it “benefited” us).

Back outside, at the head of the Non-Members line, the woman in the black sundress with the white piping was furious. Her shadow of a lover tried to calm her to no effect. She engaged a guard who argued back.

I wondered if this would be the moment he stopped loving her.

He looked distressed.

Behind me someone said, “Members should go first. There are probably people who paid two-thousand dollars to be members.” The person with that person said, “I don’t know about two-thousand dollars. Anyone who paid that much probably got a private screening.”

How does money factor into justice? What is fair? Is it fair to have to wait less for art if you pay more? Does money earn you that? What is the value of money in relationship to justice, time and art? I don’t know. It all feels pretty wrong. First come, first serve. Isn’t that the most fair? What should it matter how much someone paid? Wasn’t this all manipulation on the part of the museum to encourage people to buy memberships? But weren’t they doing that in order to stay funded so they can continue to provide exhibitions that encourage these sorts of discussions? What is good? What is bad? And how do we choose to perceive them?

Years ago, when I was in India, I visited Hindu temples with the wife of a Brahman priest. We shortcutted six-hour lines to see figures of deities in tight, cave-like rooms, and receive blessings. This did not feel fair, but I participated, and I ate the Prasad. No one in line seemed to mind. Perhaps because this is the system in India, and they accept the system because that’s how it is, and how it’s been, and how it will be, because that’s how it is, and how it’s been. Although, it’s supposed to be better… Regardless, is it okay for me to participate in a system that stratifies humans whatever the level of stratification? Probably not. It feels pretty crummy when I’m on the other side of it. Actually, either side feels bad. Do I still participate? Yeah. Why? Because it’s often the path of least resistance. Is that okay? I don’t know. Probably not. Maybe sometimes. It’s hard to know.

The guard who had been arguing with the woman in the black dress with the white piping came inside. She sighed, but felt proud she had stood her ground with the woman. Someone needed to enforce some rules around here, even if the rules kept changing.

The woman in the black dress and her shadow lover walked into the lobby and through to the exhibit, right in front of the guards and me – as I was now at the head of the line.

The guard who had been arguing with her was furious, “Who let that woman in? I just finished fighting with her, and now her bad behavior is being rewarded.”

All the other guards shrugged and looked away.

“Did she just go in on her own?” the guard asked.

She was met with mumbling and general finger pointing.

“All right,” she said, “Well I guess y’all have got this. You don’t need me. Y’all got this? Okay?”

They nodded and looked up at the ceiling, or in other various directions.

I was relieved White-Piping Woman and Shadow Lover had rebelled against the system. They had been ahead of me, and it clearly bothered her.

But what bothered me was that she felt she could fight for herself, and believe someone would still love her.

Doesn’t she know, to be loved, we give up ourselves?

I asked the guy in the Prince shirt about his Art History book. He told me how it serves as a guide on artists through history, and also subsequently tracks patterns of how art, at any time in history, reflects society in a manner that allows society to reflect on its image, and grow through this ever-changing dialogue of self-reflection.

Because I write for TV I think about this. What do I want to say about how I see reality in order to break up limiting social paradigms and reveal deeper truths? How do I do that? Can I do that? If I can, will people watch?

I told him this and he said, “That’s funny, look what I just underlined.” He showed me a sentence in his book that said TV has stagnated society through its banality.

I started to say TV is changing. The Internet has changed things. And with more worldwide digital formats like Netflix, there’s more opportunity for—

–Just then, we were ushered into the gallery.

I expected the guard to be more excited for me as I entered the dark room. She was not interested in meeting my expectation.

I realized I’ve felt this way before. This happens when I get to the front of lines for roller coasters – the dead-eyed attendant shuffling us in, and perfunctorily checking our lap bars – her mind, elsewhere.

The guy in the Prince t-shirt slipped me a card and whispered, “That’s my email address. E-mail me, and I’ll send you my class syllabus. It’s really informative.” I thanked him and held the card.

I looked around the room and wondered if the only open seat would be next to my former lover. I hadn’t seen him exit. He might still be in here. I thought of some quips to say in case I was forced to sit next to him. But I couldn’t make him out.

Everyone was a dark blob.

What I could make out was the continuous montage of clips on the screen. It featured clocks, or the passage of time, or people waiting, or discussing time in some capacity. The clips span the history of film and television. They’re in black and white, and color. They come from all over the world. Patterns emerge (or seem to) – what people do at certain times of day. It can feel both unifying and alienating: “Oh right, we’re all humans who eat, sleep, and trim our pubic hair over toilet bowls,” but also “Oh right, people have families who don’t appreciate them, and they want their families to eat lunch quickly so they can meet up with a younger Clint Eastwood (those people who still haven’t figured out romantic love is a temporary delusion (out of one cage and into another, Meryl)).”

Aside from the screen, there are eight IKEA couches that seat three people each. This means twenty-four people get to sit. Twenty-five people are allowed to stand against the back wall.

No one is allowed to sit on the floor.

The guards come around and flash their flashlights at people who sit on the floor.

“No sitting on the floor,” they say.

The people sitting on the floor ask, “No sitting on the floor?!”

The guards grunt.

The sitting people stand.

Maybe we’re all entitled children, used to rules being bent for us – used to a pliable world we can negotiate with for our optimal comfort. Maybe we believe if we pay for something we deserve the experience we paid for (which is often just something we imagined, and then wanted). Also, maybe we should be allowed to sit on the floor. I don’t know.

When I was in Mexico this past Spring I talked with friends who lamented that Mexicans don’t have the national role models other countries have. Role models like Martin Luther King or Gandhi. Role models who make them believe their voice can make a difference.

Sometimes we need other people to be in charge of us.

It’s hard to know when.

We can only know after, and even then it’s debatable.

Sometimes moments are just moments in time until we look backwards and see a story.

Everyone’s story is a little different, unless we decide on a story for all of us, and then that’s our reality – until it isn’t: to be loved we have to give up ourselves.

It was the artist’s intention that seating be limited. He specified the eight IKEA sofas – that each fit three. This is, at least, partly due to the fact he did not secure the rights to the clips used in the piece. “The Clock” legally can’t be shown as a film in a movie theater. It must be shown as an art piece in a gallery to qualify for Fair Use.

It’s a funny thing this limitation creates. It increases the worth of the experience. People are frustrated, but value the experience more. And because they had to wait in line for an hour or two or three, they want to spend at least that much time watching. And because you can stay as long as you want, people do stay (with little regard to those now in line) – until they get too hungry, or in my case, restless, and finally leave.

I stayed from 12:13pm – 1:15pm. During that time I moved from the back wall, away from the guy in the Prince t-shirt, and onto a sofa with a cuddling couple.

Afterwards, I met up with my friends for a birthday picnic under a tree behind the museum. We talked, ate and pretended to act out scenes from “The Clock” – noticing the time for different reasons.

I finally asked what time it really was.

2:45.

I had to get back to my car to put money in the meter.

When I got there, I hesitated.

I was tempted to get in and drive away without saying goodbye to my friends.

If I had been with a lover I would’ve insisted we go back and say goodbye.

But I wasn’t.

So, I got in my car and drove away.

—————–

Kate Purdy primarily writes for television.  Her credits include: Cold CaseMad TVCougar TownEnlistedThe McCarthys, and BoJack Horseman.  She also created and runs Hive House with her friend Stacy Elaine Dacheux.  Hive House is a community space for artists, writers, environmentalists, and healers to meet, share knowledge, and support each other.

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