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, whose 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 decipherable yet.
The project takes inspiration from the urban environment of Manchester and the landscapes of Kent. Manchester, formerly an engine of the industrial revolution and once one of the wealthiest cities in the world, is now the site of post-industrial service economies. The North Kent Coast is replete with desolate seaside resorts, run-down theme parks, and derelict military fortifications by the sea.
The Manchester scenes represent the “inside.” The protagonists in the film are played by a group of local residents, some of which have memories of the main location, the former Methodist mission Albert Hall. The actors are filmed in tableaux vivants style images on 35mm. They reflect on various objects from the past, relics form the age of mechanical reproduction and analogue technology, which in the digital present seem increasingly mysterious. Other scenes show the demolition of the old BBC regional headquarters, with its obsolete machinery and outdated recording equipment.
The Kent sequences, by contrast, represent the “outside”, the world around the protagonists in Albert Hall. The film shows repeating architectural structures and topographies populated by abandoned ships, collapsing piers and rotting sea forts rising from the water on stilts like an alien life form. The opening images of the film focus on Margate’s Dreamland, one of the first amusement parks that opened its doors in the early 19th century. 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.
Subconscious Society considers the possibility of archiving something whose value cannot be recognised or measured anymore, yet ultimately it is not about nostalgia, but rather the question of how we can understand the present. The theme of obsolescence is carried on in a very material sense; by accident (both happy and tragic) it was filmed with the last available shipment of Fuji 35mm stock.
Additional footage has also been shot during Rosa Barba’s residency in Marfa, Texas. Subconscious Society is Rosa Barba’s most comprehensive film project to date.