International artist Sarah Morris was invited by Art on the Underground to create the twelfth commission at Gloucester Road. Big Ben  was a site-specific response to the architecture of the station and the city of London. Spanning eighteen arches across the entire length of the disused platform, this dynamic work is an evolving spectrum of colour and geometry that invites the viewer to reflect upon both London’s past and its future.
Morris has developed the work from her painting of the same title, created for an official London 2012 Paralympic poster. Using the structure of Big Ben as a point of departure, she references this London architectural icon and its history, ironically with an anti-authoritarian slant: no-one can control the politics of the future, the work suggests. Time and movement are also explored, concepts that become all the more poignant in the context of the Underground as well as the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Big Ben  is a streamlined image of time and the production of a painting. Morris strips the image bare, playing with colour within a sequence of compositions and creating the image through a build-up of fragments. This progression not only recalls the countdown to a spectacle or event, but also parallels the way in which a train pulls in and out of the station.
Since the mid-1990s, Morris has been making complex abstractions in both painting and film. This is the first time that she has produced a work taking London as its subject. Her paintings can be described as portraits of cities, referencing their psychology, architectural motifs and geography. Observations into a given city’s ‘cultural, commercial and political configurations’ result in a new self-referential system and a unique colour palette, which work counter to the contemporary notion of the homogenised global metropolis. The idea of travel and the commuter, public pathways and their corresponding diagrams throughout the city are also sources of ongoing fascination for Morris, as demonstrated in her films, with subway stations featuring in works such as Midtown (1998), Beijing (2008) and Chicago (2011).
Big Ben  is equivalent to the scenario for a virtual film. A backdrop to real life, the work engages with Morris’s conception of the city as a constellation of non-linear narratives. ‘It is in these transient spaces that you can see the stories of the inhabitants of a particular city, a veritable stage where people congregate, en route to their next destination.’
Sarah Morris is represented by White Cube
Find out more about the London 2012 Festival Official Artists Posters
Read about Art on the Underground’s previous Gloucester Road Commissions