What is the meaning of Christian Marclay’s Telephones?

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Christian Marclay - Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min., dimensions variable.
Stills of Christian Marclay – Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min, dimensions variable

Published on: Saturday July 20, 2019

Last updated

Introduction

Christian Marclay’s Telephones, created in 1995, was a skilfully edited arrangement of black-and-white, as well as color film clips that highlighted different subjects utilizing an array of telephones, all designed before the smartphone era that we live in today. At the time of its release, technology was just reaching its peak, which is why Telephones became a breakthrough piece that is often celebrated today for its pioneering role in the history of video art.

Christian Marclay - Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min., dimensions variable.
Stills of Christian Marclay – Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min, dimensions variable

Composition

Telephones utilized the story arc of the telephone call that featured a cast of popular TV and movie characters. These deconstructed film clips were sourced by Marclay from more than one hundred and thirty classic Hollywood films. For the series, he carefully combined a 7-minute-long montage of clips that featured the Hollywood cast using telephones. Telephone’s acoustic and graphic repetitions partly helped to make the stock scenes included more familiar and friendly.

Christian Marclay - Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min., dimensions variable
Stills of Christian Marclay – Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min, dimensions variable

What happens in the video?

Telephones starts off with various scenes portraying the movie characters dialing the telephone. In the process of dialing, each of the telephone’s mechanics, rhythms, and other sound properties, which have all changed significantly with the growth of technology and the rise of the smartphone, is highlighted.

Christian Marclay - Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min., dimensions variable
Stills of Christian Marclay – Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min, dimensions variable

Christian Marclay - Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min., dimensions variable
Still of Christian Marclay – Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min, dimensions variable

Christian Marclay - Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min., dimensions variable
Still of Christian Marclay – Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min, dimensions variable

Video: Christian Marclay – Telephones, 1995

7min 17sec

Analysis

Marclay weaved the archetype of the human experience with the phone by using a varied arena of familiar images. When the phone rings, each cast member has a different reaction consisting of boredom, anxiety, anger, desire, and so on and so forth, which consequently makes it appear as though all the cast members are taking part in one long cohesive conversation.

The visual experience, of the different cast members, was made even more profound by the sound editing done by Marclay. The editing helped to create a wonderful collage that highlighted the mechanics of the telephones being utilized.

Christian Marclay - Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min., dimensions variable
Stills of Christian Marclay – Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min, dimensions variable

Conclusion

With Telephones, Christian Marclay managed to not only come up with a completely new narrative that offered audiences a perceptive observation on cinematic devices, but also one that highlighted old-fashioned and outdated social behaviors and habits that are often experienced in the society.

In relation to today’s, mobile-first and internet prone contemporary world, the telephone, has a different effect on society than it did all those years ago. The telephone, though a lot smaller, has grown to occupy every fabric of social existence. As technology continued to advance, the telephone will continue to take on a different role in society. It appears that the telephone no longer has the same impact – physical, social or emotional – that it once did.

Christian Marclay - Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min., dimensions variable
Still of Christian Marclay – Telephones, 1995, video installation, single-channel video, black-and-white and color, with sound, 7-30 min, dimensions variable

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