Oliver Payne & Nick Relph


Oliver Payne (born 1977) and Nick Relph (born 1979) refer to themselves as two guys from West London, “who enjoy making films together“. Since 1999 there have been five of them which, using as an example life in our big cities and reference their social controls deal with the discrepancy between inner experience and external reality by means of excited images, texts and sounds.

In their exhibition at Kunsthalle Zurich, Oliver Payne & Nick Relph are screening their first film, «Driftwood» (1999) and their most recent, «Gentlemen» (2003). Both are set in their native London, but could stand for any other big city and the relationship between individuals and public spaces.

On the occasion of the lecture by Gregor Muir (from Tate Modern in London) on May 30, their three other films, «House and Garage» (2000) and «Jungle» (2001), which, together with «Driftwood» form «The Essential Selection» trilogy, and «Mixtape» (2002) will be presented in a one-off screening.

Oliver Payne & Nick Relph’s film narratives are dominated by the energy and emotional turmoil of youths on the threshold of adulthood. Born as they were at the height of the punk movement, their films contain elements of an energy that was critical of society, both nervous and rebellious as well as criticism of art for art’s sake, as they perceive this as being formalist and having little to do with reality. Their works, influenced by documentaries as well as avant-garde cinema weave well-known genres into an independent pictorial language, dominated by quickness and rhythm and excited images and contents. Closely associated as they are with the graffiti, rave and skateboard culture, they aim in their films to create an experience akin to a «visual rave in the cinema ».

«Driftwood» (1999) is the two artists’ homage to Patrick Keiller’s 1994 film «London». It is at one and the same time a serious, committed and romantic journey through the London of today, the breathless trip of a skateboarder in the form of a psychological and geographical journey through the urban landscapes of Canary Wharf, Earl’s Court and Mayfair. A skateboard stroll, oscillating between close-up and wide-angle, between fascination and anger, love and hate. The pictorial sequences in «Driftwood» are accompanied by a powerful text that contrasts images with continuous parallel movements, juxtaposing power structures, the dominance of big companies, ecological questions and political discussion about contemporary life as a revolt by the individual, with disciplinary measures in the public domain. The images in the film cause us to assume that nothing alive in the streets of London really fits in with the design that town planners and big companies have prescribed for residential areas. Payne & Relph refer to the city as «a grotesque waste of marble, steel and clean streets», leaving little space for the comic figure of human beings and their wishes. The continuous sequence of images of a city, that at the same time are both familiar and unfamiliar, lead us, together with the skateboarders, who against all the rules conquer the city territory, in a sort of alternative perception through the concrete jungles and along alternative thought patterns to them. The text summarizes this as follows: «Make your way through your city along different paths: follow smells, noises, whatever. If a desire can be turned into a physical activity, you must fight the burgeoning restrictions of orderly society and act according to your wishes. In the name of your heart smash the symbols of the Empire...». «Driftwood» is a compact narrative about social control and individual revolt, which confronts personal matters with politics, Utopia with reality.

«Gentlemen» (2002) is likewise set in London. The film deals «in much the same way as Driftwood deals with skateboarders, with public lavatories and good manners». In contrast to «Driftwood», the film is dominated by iridescent abstract images, which the artists shot in and around Carnaby Street, the epitome of Swinging London, a neighborhood that now stands for global brand marketing and the decay of urban culture as a result of tourism. By means of the abstract worlds of underground lavatories and close-up shots of Christmas illuminations, we wander together with the film’s protagonist through his rap-style criticism and inner monologue.

In addition to the texts, viewers are treated to a soundtrack that alternates between Morse code and instrumental drum sounds, displaying a unique discrepancy between digital control structures and the revolt, which is the live act. Whereas «Driftwood» develops a linear stream-of-consciousness narrative by the skateboard stroller, «Gentlemen» pulsates both at a pictorial and sound level like a poem which weaves abstract images, associated with each other by means of moods and rhythms, into a chain of individual events.

Oliver Payne & Nick Relph’s works continually celebrate the purity of feeling, lending a voice to those who resist political and corporate power structures and decide to lead their life on their own terms. They champion the spontaneity of punk, but not its No Future slogan. Their works offer a critical stance on what they, in a mixture of romanticism, youthful aesthetics, quasidocumentary and artistic film, show both about the urban, mythical complex that is London, as well as contemporary life in general. A sort of «High School level existentialism» joins up with a continuous conversation that the two artists are engaged in and turn into films – they call it «power dossing» – pondering about everything under the sun in the cities’ streets and temples of commerce, or writing poetry in the new cult locations of urban life such as Starbuck’s coffee shops. In their opinion these dreadful places are the modern centers of sleepily agitated resistance: «Andy Warhol would have hung out at Starbucks. I’m sure that means something»...

The Kunsthalle Zürich thanks: Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich, Maya Hoffmann
Our lecture and educational programme is supported by Swiss Re.