Tate Modern Film

Jean Painlevé: Silver, Photons and Liquid Crystals

Film still of crystalline forms

Jean Painlevé Phase Transition in Liquid Crystals [Transition de Phase dans les Cristaux Liquides] 1978, film still. Copyright Archives Jean Painlevé, Paris 

Discover nature's microscopic wonders in this rare screening of Jean Painlevé's abstract films

Explore the captivating short films of Jean Painlevé, whose documentary work has inspired artists from Pablo Picasso, Philippe Parreno to Joan Jonas. Best known for his 1934 film The Seahorse and other portraits of marine creatures, Painlevé used the microscope and modern optics to reveal the natural world in intricate detail, be it animal, vegetable or mineral. This screening presents a selection of Painlevé's rarely seen abstract films on liquid crystals, photons, diatoms and silver nitrate. The programme includes five short films made between the early 1930s and the late 1970s, three of which have not been screened since Painlevé's lifetime.

There would have been no New Wave without Jean Painlevé and his insubmersible camera
Jean-Luc Godard


Electrolysis of Silver Nitrate [Electrolyse du nitrate d'argent] 1932, 35mm transferred to digital video, black and white, silent, 3 min

Diatoms [Diatomées] 1968, 16mm, colour, sound, 17 min, French with English subtitles

Liquid Crystals [Cristaux Liquides] 1970-8, 16mm film transferred to digital video, colour, silent, 10 min extracts from various films made in the 1970s

Photons [Les Photons] 1974, 16mm transferred to digital video, colour, silent, 10 min extract of 18 min

Phase transition in Liquid Crystals [Transition de Phase dans les Cristaux Liquides] 1978, 16mm transferred to digital video, colour, sound, 7 mins

The screening is followed by a discussion with Marie Jager, Director at the Archives Jean Painlevé in Paris

About Jean Painlevé

Jean Painlevé (1902–1989, France) was a filmmaker whose influential films are notable for their fusion of scientific observation, modern optics and an avant-garde sensibility. He created over two hundred documentaries in his lifetime which celebrate the extraordinary wonders of nature – from aquatic creatures to microscopic processes. Painlevé used or developed the most advanced technologies of his time such as early colour film and underwater cameras, and was unafraid to mix his images with progressive music of his time, from the Dixieland jazz of Louis Armstrong to the experimental music he personally commissioned by composers such as François de Roubaix. His friendship with filmmakers Luis Buñuel and Sergei Eisenstein as well as artists Alexander Calder and Fernand Léger were important to Painlevé's engagement with the visual arts. Working for over six decades, his photographs and films reveal his jubilant curiosity and visionary ecological engagement with the natural world.

Jean Painlevé's The Octopus [La Pieuvre] 1928 can be seen in The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 - Love, Fame, Tragedy.

This screening is curated with the Jean Painlevé Archives as a prelude to the Tate Modern exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art.

Tate Modern

Starr Cinema

Entry via café entrance

London SE1 9TG
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Date & Time

25 April 2018 at 19.30–21.30

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