JF Payne and the dematerialisation of cinema
by Diego Ramirez
Oxygen is a primordial element to the sustainment of life but under the right conditions it also holds the capacity to distort and bend the surface of matter into deformity – in other words, to oxidize. A similar process is called upon during the development of film and photography to reveal the images captured by the camera. Indeed, oxidization is a paradoxical procedure, a creative form of destruction. Payne self-reflexively invokes this strategy to reveal an anachronistic picture: the avant-garde’s dematerialization of film.
Blue Movie (an installation that oxidizes the walls of Kings ARI’s black cube) may initially appear as the mise-en-scène of an avant-garde piece, but as the title suggests, the work in itself is in fact a movie. This radical dematerialization of the moving image belongs to a peripheral account of Structuralism. According to Jonathan Walley, a dominant narrative prevails in film theory in which the material preoccupations of the avant-garde are understood through “mediumspecificity” – the exploration of the medium’s materiality, such as the projector, reel, and screen. However, a parallel concern emerged in the 60s in which cinema was envisioned as an idea, a concept that transcends the medium of film. This account puts forward that ‘cinema’ is in fact a mode of thinking that precedes the invention of film. Indeed, a number of works from that era articulated cinema detached from filmic technology, primarily via a play with light, and/or time. 1 Jackson’s work references one particular work that emerged from this intellectual climate, Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movies (1973).
Yellow Movies involves 20 large sheets of photographic paper coloured with white house paint and intended to age yellow over the course of five decades. This slow process of degradation entails a temporal relation with the spectator that evokes a cinematic experience. Walley summons the concept of ‘paracinema’ to describe “an array of phenomena that are considered “cinematic” but that are not embodied in the materials of film as traditionally outside the standard film apparatus”. 2 (He is careful to note that ‘paracinema’ is a term most commonly discussed in relation to so-called ‘exploitation’ and ‘cult’ cinema).3
Through Walley’s lens, Yellow Movies belongs to a paracinematic paradigm. And in an equal measure, Jackson Payne’s Blue Movie functions as a disembodied enunciation of cinema that exists “outside the standard film apparatus”. The central link between Conrad’s Yellow Movies and Payne’s Blue Movie is their play with temporality. They both use paint to unleash a process of degradation that in turn activates a cinematic experience. However, while Conrad applies paint to photographic paper, Payne’s addresses the walls of the black cube. In the context of cinema, blue walls are inevitably associated with the ‘blue screen room’ and the ‘chroma key effect’ – subjects are recorded in front of a blue background later to be replaced during post-production. Blue Movie subverts this process by concentrating on the materiality of the walls, and therefore disrupting the illusory effect associated with the ‘blue screen’. Payne discharges a vision of degradation in which blockbuster escapism – castaway tigers, Ninja Turtles and James Franco in funny hats – is replaced with the presentness (and perhaps the bleakness) of ‘reality’. However, a more sophisticated critique lies in the way in which it communicates to cinematic video art practices and their relationship to the art complex – a communion crystallised by the emergence of the black cube. This syncretism remains a highly contested ground, with a blend of various art historical ‘worms’ and a myriad of filmic ‘corpses’ fertilising the land.
It may be hard to tell if Jackson Payne’s Blue Movie is rotting, sprouting or perhaps mutating, but his enthusiastic references to mortality bring late Syd Barrett’s No Man’s Land lyrics to mind: “When I live I die!”.
Diego Ramirez (MX, 1989) lives and works in Melbourne.
1 Jonathan Walley, “The Material of Film and the Idea of Cinema: Contrasting Practices in Sixsties and Seventies Avant-Garde Film”, October, Winter, 103, (2003): 16-18.
2 Ibid., 18.
3 Ibid., 17-18.