- Part of...Critic's Choice: Patricia Bickers, Sarah Kent, Mark Lawson & Tim Marlow
- Gallery 1
It's now nearly seven years since Sarah Morris began to make short films charting the psycho-geography of American cities. She began with the most filmed of any in the world - New York - and subsequently produced an unplanned series which takes the viewer from the heart of midtown Manhattan to Las Vegas, Washington, Miami and most recently - in 2004 - out west to Los Angeles.
Morris herself was born in England in 1967 but brought up in the United States. Her father was British; her mother American. Her vision, as a filmmaker, is both that of the outsider and the insider. Writing in her most recent publication, Douglas Coupland observed that Morris had managed uniquely to find an approach to the urban landscape that was "without irony or naiveté".
Each film is an expansive but dense journey through a metropolis, what Morris describes as "a pile-up of people and effects and things that inform a place". They are also the creative springboard for a series of complex, dynamic, rigorous and dazzling paintings. Defying the idea that painting is a static medium, Morris both abstracts and condenses the visual experience conveyed in her films where fragments of the urban grid provide the structure and the light and colours of the city inspire the tone and atmosphere of the canvasses. Each painting is self-contained but has been shown to powerful effect in a group; likewise, each film exists separately and as a distinct work of art in its own right but has been frequently shown in conjunction with the paintings. I've seen the work in various contexts but when FACT offered me the chance to make a show of my choice I jumped at the chance to show Sarah Morris's five films one after other in a continuous cycle, for the very first time in a public institution in the UK.
The intensity of the films stem from Morris's deft use of montage and ruthless editing. Along with a small crew, including her favoured cinematographer David Daniel, she shoots hours of film over a period which has expanded from a single day to well over a week. But the real eye-catching nature of the work comes from the places which she chooses and manages to gain access. Corporate America has become highly suspicious of the camera yet Morris has managed to film everything from the Revlon Corporation in Manhattan to the Coca Cola factory on the edge of Miami. More extraordinary still, she gained entry to the White House and to the Pentagon in the making of Capital in 2000 in the last weeks of Clinton's Presidency. Add to the mix her most recent venture - LA at its most narcissistic and compelling during Oscar-time - and it's a head-spinning prospect for visitors to FACT. Where else will you get the chance to see botox and basketball; Jack Nicholson courtside and Dennis Hopper driving a black jag; aspiring actors at an audition and A-list celebrities being famous for the paparazzi pack on the red carpet; legendary Hollywood big-shot Robert Evans being shaved by his topless girlfriend and his butler dressing young director Brett Ratner in the back of a stretch limo? The most imageobsessed city on the planet is stripped back and re-examined in a visceral sequence of memorable images, a montage of social power and ritual. During Sarah Morris's show at FACT, it's even possible that her Oscar-inspired film Los Angeles will be nominated for an Oscar itself.
Back in 2001, after Morris had focused her gaze on her nation's seat of government in Capital, the political journalist Joe Klein commented that she had captured the 'existential uneasiness' of DC. This, I think, applies to all her films. They are immensely seductive and deal elegantly with the visual surface of place but they have an edginess to them too which wrestles with the psychological interior of the city, which is both specific and universally resonant.
Sarah Morris, Miami, 2002. 35mm/DVD, 27'30".
Los Angeles, 2004. 35mm/DVD, 26'12".
Capital, 2000. 16mm / DVD, 18'18".
AM/PM, 1999. 16mm, DVD, 12'36".
All images © Parallax, courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London).
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