Christian Marclay likes to play with doors. His early sculpture Armoire, 1988; the door slamming in Video Quartet, 2002; and his series of screen prints Door (The Electric Chair), 2006, are just a few examples. Here, he speaks about his latest work, Doors, 2022, a video made of snippets from various movies, and his difficulties editing it. Door after door, room after room, the 54-minute loop runs on like a rhyming game. Placed near the exit of his survey at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (curated by Jean-Pierre Criqui, through February 27), it sends us on our way while holding us back. At every turn, doors open; at every threshold, the unexpected awaits.
OF ALL THE VIDEOS I’VE MADE, I think this was the most challenging. I had the idea for Doors about ten years ago, when I was working on The Clock. I was looking for ways to connect different unrelated clips and had to find edit points. It was easy with my first video collage Telephones (1995), made of jump cuts from one speaker to the other, an easy way to hop in time and in space. A few times in The Clock I used a door as an edit point. When you film someone go through a door, you show them approach the door and open it, then with a reverse shot you show them enter a new space. I used this edit point as a transition between films, so the door was basically a way to enter a new movie. The actor goes through a door and comes out a different person.
I had one assistant looking for footage while I was editing—I didn’t have a big crew of people like I had for The Clock. It’s quite difficult to find scenes in cinema showing an actor entering a space and then going into another space. I needed two doors: The actor enters one space and then leaves through another door—so it’s one room to the next room to the next room to the next room, and every time a different actor in a different film. It’s a strange choreography to edit. The door has to be opened in a similar way and at the same speed to make it believable. If someone is running and then you see them peek slowly through the door on the other side, it doesn’t look realistic. I also had to match the motion of pulling or pushing the door. To make things even more complicated, that door is hinged on one side and that has to match, the hinge and the door handle. If done well, the viewer gets sucked in and fooled by these editing tricks. So you see an actor in color in the ’80s entering a black-and-white film from the ’50s, and you know it’s not the same actor, but your mind wants to believe that it is. The trick is to create a flow, an illusion of continuity.
I’m also playing with repetition. Now that we’ve lived with video in an art context for so many years, we’ve developed conditioned anxious behaviors. We enter a dark projection space and don’t know when the video has started, how long it will last, and when to leave. In this work, I play with that anxiety. There’s no beginning and no end, it’s a perfect loop, yet there are repetitions within. When you see something you’ve already seen you think it’s time to leave, but those repetitions might lead to different doors, not the ones you have seen before. I’m building in people’s minds an architecture in which to get lost.
There is very little happening in Doors. Unlike The Clock, where you have enough time to get engaged in a fragment of narrative, here the clips are short and really just about a passage. There are a lot of corridors, a lot of intermediary spaces, which often in cinema are not essential to the narrative. There’s very little dialogue. But there are sounds. When you enter a new space, you enter a new sound environment. There are also the sounds of the doors, the squeaks, the turning of the handle, the knocking. Because the cuts are so abrupt, the music can be jarring on the other side. I had to find ways to smooth these transitions, to make them believable. I want to fool the viewer for only a fraction of a second—because they know that behind that door is another film.
The door is of course very symbolic, but I see it more as sculptural. My video is a sort of mental structure that the viewer might or might not follow and get lost in. It would be interesting to do a 3-D version of it, where all these people go up and down stairs, right and left into different rooms, at different times, so there’s a sense of architectural passage from one space to the next.