Close Up

26 November 2019: Simon Payne: Systems Cinema


Simon Payne has been committed to making abstract cinema for twenty years. His videos are predominantly orientated around bold graphic forms and highly structured sequences that produce unexpected colour combinations and conflicting planes. Sometimes there are contingent elements that correspond with incidental indications of the artist’s hand, but his approach to cinema is primarily objective. The systems that underpin Simon Payne’s videos involve the entirety of the screen and every edge, while the effect of these systems often spill out of the screen, to illuminate the cinema in remarkable ways. This programme, originally commissioned by Lightcone (Paris), also includes 16mm films by three friends and colleagues: Nicky Hamlyn, Neil Henderson and Jennifer Nightingale. Despite the difference in medium, several shared principles span their work. Each of them sees explicit processes and time-based structures as the essence of cinema.

Systems Cinema also celebrates the launch of a new DVD by Simon Payne that includes several works from 2010-2018. It is the second compilation of his work on the RGB label, which has published DVDs by Nick Collins, Nicky Hamlyn, Neil Henderson and Samantha Rebello. Systems Cinema and other RGB DVDs will be available at the screening. They are also available from the BFI and LUX.

Colour Bars
Simon Payne, 2004/2019, 8 min, Silent

The colour bars ordinarily form a constant test signal image that is used to calibrate video equipment. Here the configuration of the seven vertical stripes continually shifts. The rapid pace with which the piece cuts produces different kinds of colour mixing, and in the video's flickering the phased fields of stripes appear to dart in all sorts of directions.

New Ratio
Simon Payne, 2007, 1’40min

New Ratio explores the move from the 4:3 screen ratio to 16:9, which is now effectively the standard for broadcast television and video. In its construction each colour was assigned a particular tone: white was attributed a standard 1KHz test tone, the pitch of the tone attributed to blue was half that, and each of the colours in between have tones at intervals between these values.

Iris Out
Simon Payne, 2008, 10 min

Iris Out is composed of single frames from sequences of expanding or contracting circles, reformatted for different aspect ratios. In certain passages of the video the combination of circles and ellipses resembles an eye, returning the gaze of the spectator.

Cut Out
Simon Payne, 2013, 3’33 min

A largely hand-made piece in comparison to most of my videos. Cut Out involves different coloured cards, with apertures cut out of them, superimposed in combinations starting from opposite ends of a simple spectrum (from yellow to blue). The method of superimposition is more complicated than it might at first seem, adding to the instability of the various planes, edges and colours.

Primitive Cinema
Simon Payne, 2015, 2 min, Silent

Light into a waiting chamber.

West Window/East Window
Jennifer Nightingale, 2013, 10 min, Silent, 16mm

These two films were made with a pinhole lens covering the aperture of a 16mm film magazine. The rooms in which they were shot, and the windows they depict, refer back to cameras in two respects: the camera as ‘room’ (and the camera obscura); and the camera that the filmmaker has put to one side. Having hand-cranked the film to expose it, the traces of light, dark and fleeting imagery are a direct, abstract translation of the filmmaker’s gestures.

Nicky Hamlyn, 1999, 7 min, Silent, 16mm

Matrix is composed of receding planes in a confined landscape: a back garden and the houses beyond. The wooden lattice fence, visible in the image, marks the border between enclosed and open, private and public space, and forms both a fulcrum for the work and a formal grid by which the shots are framed.

Neil Henderson, 2018, 3 min, Silent, 16mm

Candle documents a polaroid photograph developing from the moment of capture to its final state, but the event is shown in reverse. As the image ‘un-develops’ it dissolves/fades into a frame of white light, illuminating the space and audience in the process. At the same time the projector animates the candle’s flame, making it flicker. The photographic process takes exactly as long as one 100ft roll of 16mm, creating an equivalence between a still and a moving medium.

Set Theory I-IV
Simon Payne, 2018, 19 min

Set Theory I–IV explores every corner of flat screen space and corresponding illusions of depth. Part I (2mins) involves dissolving surfaces. Part II (2mins) has alternating planes and adds the numbers 0 and 1, as graphic components. Part III (12mins) slowly takes the screen into depth, evoking architectonic principles of the video frame. Part IV (2mins) introduces pure, constantly changing colour fields. In the first instance, Set Theory involved producing and collating different sets of vertical, horizontal, diagonal and curved graphic transitions. These were subsequently combined or sequenced by way of different rules that keep the conflict of planes, forms, tonal values and colour foremost. 

Simon Payne’s work has shown in numerous festivals and venues including: Anthology Film Archives, New York; Pacific Film Archives, San Francisco; the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Edinburgh, London and Rotterdam film festivals; Media City Festival, Windsor, Ontario; European Media Arts Festival, Osnabrück; the Serpentine and Whitechapel Galleries in London; Tate Britain and Tate Modern and the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. He has also written widely on experimental film and video and recently co-edited the book Kurt Kren: Structural Films (2016) with Nicky Hamlyn and A.L. Rees. He is currently editing a posthumous book by A.L. Rees, entitled Fields of View: Film, Art and Spectatorship. Simon Payne is Reader in Film and Media at ARU, Cambridge and lives in London.