In Conversation with Rosa Barba

Visiting Curator Henriette Huldisch talks to celebrated Italian-German artist Rosa Barba about her work in our current exhibition Subject To Constant Change

Henriette Huldisch: Subconscious Society is your most comprehensive film project to date and will be exhibited in several distinct ways. Can you talk about the process of making the film and its different forms?

Rosa Barba: Subconscious Society is about the end of the industrial era and the transition to the digital age, in which computer code and the clone or copy are in the process of replacing material objects and analogue technology. In the film, this paradigm shift is represented in the form of a social community. The protagonists make a final attempt at assigning and archiving objects from the past. It is set in a transitional realm where the past exists only as a reference to itself and the details of the present are not fully legible. The work was filmed at historic locations in Manchester and Kent and is realized in two 35mm film installations – one shown at Cornerhouse and the other one at Turner Contemporary during similar time periods. Each version uses different scenes, and each focuses on different aspects: inside vs. outside, people vs. landscapes. I will also combine the different versions and additional footage into to a full-length artist film, which will hopefully premiere later in the year as a theatrical stage performance. So each part of the presentation focuses on different aspects of my interest in art film: film as history and historiography, film as a material and as sculpture, film as performance, and all the overlapping forms inbetween.

HH: In Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day from 2009 (on view in Gallery 2), you developed the idea of using multiple projectors like a chorus of voices. How does this notion inform the recent works?

RB: This is my first work where I developed a complex filmic performance. The installation consists of five 16mm projectors that form a chorus. The idea behind the installation is the Venetian polychoral style of the late Renaissance and early Baroque times, a type of music which involved spatially separate choirs singing in alternation. The theocentric construction of the world was slowly replaced by a humanistic idea of reality, and choirs were allowed to sing about ideas as well. The lyrics projected as text fragments make a statement for the future, and analyze the status quo with a multitude of voices. The projectors are coordinated with each other and speed up or slow down according to the text. They are following a choreographed order by capturing a moment of reformation and translating it into a silent choreography. The idea of fragmenting the narrative of Subconscious Society came out of this process.

HH: What do we see in Manchester and Margate respectively? How do the two installations relate?

RB: The Manchester scenes are played by a group of local residents, some of who have memories of the main location, Albert Hall. This imposing building, which has a huge meeting hall and a ten-metre tall pipe organ, is now closed and in a rundown state. The people in it reflect on various objects from the past, relics from the age of mechanical reproduction, which in our digital present seem distant and enigmatic. Other scenes show objects from the demolition of the old BBC regional headquarters, along with obsolete machinery and now outdated recording equipment. The Kent sequences, on the other hand, show repeating architectural structures and landscaped with abandoned ships, collapsing piers and strange sea forts rising from the water. The opening images of the film focus on Margate’s Dreamland, which was one of the first amusement parks in England, opened in the early 19th century. To me, the park functions like a passage between the past and the present, a threshold for ‘old beliefs’, in which objects and materials had specific values. Both films intercut between the two locations and represent the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ respectively. At the same time, the ‘outside’ turns into the ‘subconscious’.

HH: Can you talk about the shoot in Manchester, working with non-professional actors from the city?

RB: The Cornerhouse team and I invited local residents to share their memories of Albert Hall, which we recorded. In this way, I got to know the protagonists. We continued these kinds of interviews throughout the film shoot – where certain actions were developed improvisationally as well, as they were slowly growing into their role and examining their colleagues during our four days there. Audio excerpts of these recordings appear in the film now. The locals were an exciting group to work with as they agreed to enter the ‘unknown’ of the performance and in this way shaped it with me.

Rosa Barba: Subject To Constant Change runs across Galleries 2 & 3 at Cornerhouse until Sun 24 Mar. More information can be found here.