White Cube presents ‘Your Words Become Mine’, Sarah Morris’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. Introducing two new series of paintings as well as the feature length film Abu Dhabi (2018), the presentation coincides with the large-scale survey show, ‘Sarah Morris: Odysseus Factor’, at UCCA in Beijing.
Since the mid-1990s, Morris has been making work that investigates urban, social and bureaucratic typologies through painting and film, exposing how the forces of control that define our world are rarely what they seem. Using an abstract visual language, she examines reality as a construct underlined by conspiracy; where the boundaries of fact and fiction, ‘truth’ and its representation are always blurred. As she has said: ‘This world does not offer me images but social forms.’
In the new series of ‘Sound Graph’ paintings, Morris explores the relationship between sound and visual iconography through a process of decoding and encoding, making reference to the light displays on digital equalizers and synthesizers. Adopting light as a device for visual distraction, Morris begins by isolating sections of dialogue from her film Finite and Infinite Games (2017) – in which she interviews the Frankfurt School theorist Alexander Kluge – and feeding these into various audio software programmes. These programmes then generate different visual interpretations of the original sounds, which are used as the basis for the compositions. Composed of lines, bars and dots, these highly seductive canvases give a sense of volumetric build-up, using both regular and irregular patterning and tonal variation to evoke movement. Through a progression of lines, running from left to right across the picture plane, words become re-encoded as visual information, highlighting the concept of language as construct, a notion particularly relevant to our ‘post-truth’ age.
Morris’s new ‘Abu Dhabi’ series of paintings continues her exploration of urban typologies. In these works, brightly coloured, fractured vertical and diagonal lines appear to reference the dynamic shard-like arrangement of Abu Dhabi’s evolving skyline, as well as the undulating pattern of its surrounding desert landscape. Using a colour palette drawn from elements encountered on location, such as industrial products, signage and material surfaces, areas of yellow, hot pink, tomato red and black in the paintings combine to evoke the heat, adrenalin, compression and exhilaration that characterize this particular urban environment. Morris does this by employing the attributes of architecture – such as scale and volume – rather than abstracting it, in order to create open-ended works that appear part of a system larger than their individual elements. Using a range of references, from GPS technology and topological mapping to QR codes and industrial graphics, the ‘Abu Dhabi’ paintings generate a virtual depiction of urban space. This idea is developed by Morris’s use of barcoding software when creating her compositions, resulting in paintings that are visually resolved and electronically readable, thereby setting up a duality that enables both human and machine interaction.
In the film Abu Dhabi (2018), commissioned by Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Morris presents a hypnotic visual analysis of this populous city through its sites and social strata, informed by its history, culture and future ambitions. Focusing in particular on Abu Dhabi’s extreme geographical location – literally on the edge of nothing – and the hierarchical systems of power that are embedded within it, Morris depicts the micro and macro of ‘a society that, in a way, knows its limits in terms of time due to the oil being a limited resource…’