Word. Sound. Power.

Project space Tate Modern London / Khôj international artist’s association New Delhi
July 12 – November 3, 2013
[text unpublished]

Voice. Either yours or thatof someone else, voice is about the self and identity, about how you stand in the world. A presence, occupying a space, conveying ideas, words and convictions, voice tells a position. From there (and from nowhere else), you can draw connections, communicate, hold a dialogue; from there you can also persuade, manipulate, control.

From poetry to politics, from silent resistance to social struggles, the artists presented in the exhibition Word. Sound. Power. at Tate Modern London show different approaches and perspectives. More than focusing on a specific aspect of the language, the gathered works set up a coherent reflection about the idea of voice as an expression of the self, as well as a tool to communicate with the others.
Organised in conjunction between Tate Modern and Khôj International Artist’s Association in New Delhi, and presented in both venues, the project gathers several artists from India together with European artists, and shows common issues.

In some situations – like social crisis, war, dictatorship – raising the voice can have an important impact. In the film ‘Arise’ by Danish artist Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, four young men find in hip hop music a way to escape their everyday life, a space to express their feelings, their hopes and their fears. Composing and singing not only give these young men a new status, but also give them something to be proud of, and the feeling of belonging to their self-created community. Some other works in the exhibition are related to committed poets, like in the film ‘A Night of Prophecy’ by Amar Kanwar, or ‘Saacha (the Loom)’ by Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar, which follows the Indian poet Narayan Surve as he tells his memories. In ‘New Harvest’ and ‘A Dictionary’, young Indian artist Pallavi Paul sets up visual essays using documentary resources, where Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca takes part in an imaginary dialogue.

Language is a tool and can become a weapon, depending how you use it. In the project ‘I am a poet’, Bengali artist Mithu Sen pretends to invent a new language, an ‘asemic’ (nonsense) language. Focusing on the voice and the speech rather than on hypothetical meanings, this project is intended as a way to reappropriate language and also to point out the absurdity of a globalized world where everyone is supposed to understand each other through the now common language: English.

Frequencies of your voice as well as pronunciation variations somehow make visible who you are; even worse, they can betray you. In the project ‘Conflicted Phonemes’, young Jordanian artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan investigates data that shows that Somali asylum seekers where chosen or rejected according to their accent. Lie detectors, voice identification: today’s technologies allow more categorisation of the very personal characteristic that is human voice.

Multilayered voices and words are at the centre of Caroline Bergvall, whose sound pieces and poems allow us to be deeply immersed into the subjectivity of language. Maybe a way to resist would be to return to poetry and to exploit the richness of the voice and language, with all its failures, its mistakes, its deficiencies...

From almost documentary films to abstract or scientific reflections on language, every work in the exhibition has its own space and meaning, while it also draws a part of a wider idea, that of the curators. They achieved to create a curated show which assumes a clear discourse while respecting the artist’s works and intentions. As the language itself, it is composed by various tendencies and strengths, it develops itself into back-and-forth movements, and doesn’t aim for any univocal reading. As per all these different works, the notion of voice extends to a broad sense and articulates very important issues that compose both singular and group destinies.


Sarah Morris, ‘Bye bye Brazil’

White Cube Bermondsey, London
June 17 - September 29, 2013
[text unpublished]

Titled after the film ‘Bye bye Brazil’ by Brazilian filmmaker Carlos Diegues (1979), this solo exhibition by Sarah Morris presents a film and paintings she produced in relation to the city of Rio de Janeiro in 2012.
Her paintings range from abstract to op art compositions, as they are at the same time schemes and vibrations – territories and movements. Highly informed by the cities or environment they relate to, these pictures seem to have kept some of the energy of the Brazilian experience: bright colours, unbridled rhythms, sensual curves. There are also two film posters on display, overpainted by abstract diagrams, which make the artistic process visible and help us to understand how the abstraction in her work is a reduction of the reality – a simplification or better, a focus.

Her film ‘Rio’ could be considered a faithful portrait of Rio de Janeiro, as it brings together sequences filmed all over the city. In almost an hour and a half you will meet all the different – sometimes contradictory – faces of this huge city, from architectural inventions to the everyday cafes, from CEOs in business meetings to people living in the favelas, from surfers on Ipanema Beach to cosmetic surgeons, from overdressed carnival participants to workers in a lingerie factory. The wide variety of Brazilian society seems to be deployed under our eyes, with its day-to-day reality as well as its dreams and promises.

The succession of images doesn’t betray any visible logic, but it’s as if we are following the artist’s vision while travelling in the city. Often the camera films the urban landscape from a car driving around, so it passes quickly on the screen, becomes blurry and almost indecipherable; sometimes it stops or slows down. Some sequences are quite long and show a lot of details about the people or environment observed, others are shorter and give just a fast image of it. In very simple way, this shows how we can behave as viewers in a city, how our attention is kept, how it runs away; how we focus sometimes on details or rather have a global look.

Emphasized and supported by the electro-style music by artist Liam Gillick, ‘Rio’ draws an hypnotising abstract portrait of the city. Succession of rhythms, bright images, alternation of quick and slow, of global and particular, all this mesmerises the viewer who can – easily – stand there for the time of a full-length movie. Even if informative, the film has some abstract qualities, which somehow keep the viewer at distance. We can guess the artist’s focus as we follow her vision, but we have no idea of her thoughts, feelings or opinions. We get to know about the variety of the city, but we don’t hear the people talking about it – you often see someone talking but they’re still mute. Electronic music takes you in the rhythm of this ever-moving city but it is also independent of it and you sometimes feel like looking through a goldfish’s bowl...

The film and the paintings arrive almost at the same point, despite their processes seeming radically different: by simplification and schematisation for the former, by addition and multiplication for the latter. They give an abstract image of how this dynamic and ever-expanding city could be seen. Abstraction here doesn’t mean a disconnection from reality, but seems to be the opposite: focusing on impressions and observations of a living city is a great way to make the viewer develop his/her own part of imagination, experience or dream...