Back to the Arcade: Oliver Payne

JP You’ve just had a string of shows in the past months—Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in New York, Nanzuka and AishoNanzuka in Tokyo and Hong Kong, Herald Street in London…

OP Yeah, I had just done a lot.

JP Are these recent works you’ve been showing all video game pieces? I see some are framed works, as well.

OP The last few shows have mainly been objects: these collages presented on monitors, and then these black monolith plinths that look like a shiny turned-off device, like an iPad turned off, and weed containers, reflected in a light coming through them, illuminated in a sort of black mirror. Quite Kubrick-like up close, and then one of my arcade desks. It’s a school desk that I’ve modified to be a working arcade machine.

JP Are you using video games that you play or you like, or are you designing your own video games?

OP When I use games in my work, I’m mainly concerned with the systems and the rules and mechanics that make the game. I’m more concerned with seeing how games and rule-based operations function.

JP Do your films follow the same rules of logic, driven by the same thing?

OP Sometimes I verge into sort of experimental documentary areas and sometimes a video will be just looking directly at systems. For Untitled (Shadow of the Colossus / In a Landscape, 2013), for example, I took a simple single shot of these things against a wall: just two flat screen TVs, two plants, two PlayStations, two oscillating, stand-up fans, two burning sticks of incense, two speakers connected to two identical turntables, and one mixer with the cross fader right in the center.

On the TVs were two copies of the same game, with two off-screen players, and the same record played on both decks in the exact same place, and I just sort of let it all start, and eventually it falls slightly out of synch, but maybe not in the ways you might think: everything is identical, and they’re all subject to the exact same forces, but of course they behave slightly differently. We don’t expect the smoke to move in the same way.

JP Are these installations manipulating each other at all? Or do you just synchronize them and then let them go?

OP No, not at all. Everything is wound up at once, and released. The two turntables playing at the exact same RPM, with the exact same stylus, with the same record, keep quite true, but if you really concentrate, you’ll notice that they’re half a beat off. I used a record by John Cage, who is almost as much as an influence on my work as video games, certainly with his approach to chance and rules. It’s interesting to watch the players react; obviously, each is watching his own screen—we never see the player, we just see their avatars running around—there’ll be times when they’re in the exact same place in the game. These experiences, which may seem identical, are actually ever so slightly different in their own way. 

JP How long does it take before you notice a difference?

OP The first thing you’ll notice is the players onscreen going in different directions, and then perhaps the fans, and if you’re already concentrating on the smoke, you’ll probably notice the way that the leaves are moving.

JP If you’re interested in chance in this scenario, where is the risk in something like this, if the scenarios are set up to be a mirror image?

OP It’s more a matter of not being concerned of the outcome; it’s more about setting up the parameters for something to happen, and then inviting anything to happen, not having any kind of value judgment of whether it is a positive or negative outcome. Like John Cage’s music—it’s almost irrelevant whether the music sounds nice. 

MUSE, 2016

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