Archive: Issue No. 63, November 2002

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Malcolm Payne

Malcolm Payne
Inaugural Portrait

Malcolm Payne

Malcolm Payne
15th March 2001, 2001
Video still

Malcolm Payne

Malcolm Payne
Anthem, 2002
Video still

Malcolm Payne

Malcolm Payne
Abandon Your culture, 1997
Video still

Malcolm Payne

Malcolm Payne
Gorilla, 1985
Polystyrene, marine plywood, canvas, paint, fabric
Height 300cm

Malcolm Payne

Malcolm Payne
Swing, 1971

Malcolm Payne

Malcolm Payne
Stella, 1974

Malcolm Payne
by Sue Williamson (November, 2002)


In his professional career, conceptual artist Malcolm Payne has worked in virtually every medium, from drawings, paintings and prints to wallpieces and sculptures notable in one series for their rich, almost dazzling, colouring and highly detailed and textured layers, in another, for the pristine smoothness of the ceramic finish. In recent years, however, Payne has worked exclusively in video, making this his medium of choice. But in one sense, the medium is unimportant - each work is the vehicle through which Payne comments on some aspect of society, whether this be racism, the exploitation of labour, the oddness and lingering potency of old monuments, the greed of international pharmaceutical companies who refuse to sell drugs at reasonable prices, the difficulties of reconstructing the "truth" of past events, or the folly of believing any particular doctrine. Deeply steeped in the theory of art and contemporary philosophy, Payne uses a wry wit and strong visual metaphors in his videos to present his ideas.

"First of all, I don't take art particularly seriously. I make the work because I enjoy making it. No more complicated reason than that. I like the seriousness of the game."

Faced with the recent task of presenting his inaugural lecture following his appointment some time ago as professor at the University of Cape Town, Payne surprised his audience by standing up and leaving the dais with the welcoming party of colleagues once the moment for him to speak arrived. Was Payne making a dash for the exit? Seconds later, his greatly enlarged image appeared on a video screen, and the lecture took the form of a video'd interview with himself entitled Seeing Things, Hearing Voices in which Payne played the role of interviewer, complete with coughs, repeated phrases and the odd sip of water - the kind of moments which normally end up on the cutting room floor. On the blue screen behind his head, images of old works appeared, from a never before seen child's swing with the side chains welded together at the moment when the swing was highest - so it looked as if the child had taken flight - to Payne's most recent work, Anthem. The point about the swing piece, a student work, was, Payne had asked various lecturers what they thought of the idea beforehand. Finally he was told somewhat impatiently by the legendary Walter Battiss just to get on with it. The incident gave him the future confidence to accept his own ideas and carry them out.

Earlier this year, Payne showed a new piece entitled Anthem on a show at Michaelis in Cape Town of South African artists represented on the World Wide Video Festival in Amsterdam. Choosing to use black and white in a split screen for the strong graphic qualities, Payne attacked the staid monuments of Cecil John Rhodes, Jan Smuts and the Old Slave Bell with a zooming unstable camera, which constantly lost focus. One became slightly seasick watching the video. Other images included a woman's feet in a basin of water, and a close up of Payne himself, upside down, glaring angrily from the screen, thus situating himself as part of the scenario represented by the monuments. At one point, water spills from his mouth and is re-ingested. "On an art historical level", says Payne, "there is a strong reference to Bruce Naumann's Portrait of the Artist as a Fountain." Anthem's music comes from Arnold Schoenberg's Prisoner from Warsaw, composed after World War 11. Tellingly, at the end, a voice concludes: "I can't remember anything. I must have been unconscious most of the time."

For Videobrasil in 2001, Payne presented 15 March 2001, yet to be seen in this country. Using the form of an info-mercial, it examines the debate over intellectual property rights in the context of huge global pharmaceutical companies control over access to affordable HIV/AIDS drugs, in a South African context. US policy is highlighted in the video in the form of streaming text. Split screen technology is used, and the inverted lips of children chatter at speed. The US national anthem forms the basis of the sound track. Appropriated footage from film using a ventriloquist dummy is used.

"Absolutely nothing. I'm doing some more work on my lecture piece, Seeing Things, Hearing Voices, and we'll see what happens after that."

Malcolm Payne is a professor at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, the city in which he lives and works.

Selected solo exhibitions:
Untitled (USA), Untitled (Holland), Untitled (UK)- 46th Venice Biennale
Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Award Show - Monument Theatre, Grahamstown

Selected group shows:
South African artists on the Worldwide Video Festival in Amsterdam, Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town
New ideas � old tricks. hARTware projekte Dortmund
Head North. Views from the SANG permanent collection. Bild Museet, Umeâ
13 Videobrasil. Festival Internacional de Arte Electronica, Sao Paolo
Homeport. South African Maritime Museum, Cape Town
18 World Wide Video Festival. Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam
Channel too. AVA, Cape Town
Kwere Kwere. Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand
Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin 1950s-1980s. Queens Museum, New York, USA, Walker Art Center, Miami Art Museum, Vancouver Art Gallery
16 World Wide Video Festival, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Bilder für den himmel, Hall Victor Hugo, Luxemburg
Arborescence sud-africaine: des artistes en fin de siécle. Nantes
XANADU "No memory" - web art exhibition
Image and Form: prints drawing and sculpture from Southern Africa and Nigeria. Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. Also at the Edinburgh College of Art
Alternating Currents, Electric Workshop, 2nd Johannesburg Biennale
Thirty Minutes - Visitors' Block, Robben Island, Cape Town
Faultlines - The Castle, Cape Town


Alan Alborough
(July 2000)
Jane Alexander
(July 1999)
Siemon Allen
(June 2001)
Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)
Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)
Conrad Botes
(Dec 2001)
Andries Botha
(April 2000)
Kevin Brand
(June 1998)
Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)
Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)
Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)
Marco Cianfanelli
(Aug 2002)
Steven Cohen
(May 1998)
Leora Farber
(May 2002)
Bronwen Findlay
(April 2002)
Kendell Geers
(June 2002)
Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)
Thembinkosi Goniwe
(Oct 2002)
Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)
Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)
Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)
Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)
Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)
William Kentridge
(May 1999)
Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)
Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)
Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)
Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)
Mandla Mabila
(Sept 2001)
Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)
Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)
Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)
Santu Mofokeng
(July 2002)
Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)
Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)
Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)
Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)
Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)
Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)
Tracy Payne
(Mar 1998)
Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)
Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)
Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)
Tracey Rose
(Mar 2001)
Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)
Berni Searle
(May 2000)
Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)
Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)
Dave Southwood
(Mar 2002)
Doreen Southwood
(Sept 2002)
Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)
Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)
Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)
Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)
Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)
Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)