Rosa Barba

Rosa Barba in her studio. Photo © Maxime Ballesteros

Ways of telling the narratives hidden from view

Rosa Barba’s work begins with the document: taking a fact, pulling it gently apart, teasing out its narrative strands and creating the work around it that plays with the confines of documentary, feature film and sculpture. The sparse, understated quality of her work is reflected in her studio. Minimal, functional and uncluttered: Barba’s space is itself something of a blank canvas, open to interpretation. 

In fact, a large part of the artist’s work takes place outside of the studio, on location-based research. Out of this research flows a story, a document, that the artist can then work with. In some ways, this relates to the human propensity for reading messages into the unintelligible – how we create stories out of whatever we come across. In her film “Outwardly from Earth’s Center”, the inhabitants of a Swedish island create myths about why their island is slipping away from them, and attempt to tie it down to halt its progress. She is particularly fascinated by narratives that have escaped mainstream attention, hiding in the crevices of human history. One example is her film of a disused racetrack, shot from a plane above: “When I filmed ‘The Long Road’, I saw it as a possible ancient drawing. I am interested in the aleatory and psychic dimension of the image, the speculative narration that conjures invisible landscapes.”  

Barba’s work often fragments these stories to destabilise the narrative, dividing the storytelling from its medium so sharply that the former no longer remains secure. In one piece, “Time Machine”, she silk-screened the entire script of a hypothetical 90-minute film, loosely based on the H.G. Wells novel. The connections, loose and tight, between text and film are laid bare, questioning how we relate to time in our perception of events.

In “Space-Length Thought”, a piece that had just returned from Margate’s Turner Contemporary when Sleek visited, a typewriter was installed that typed letters of text on to the white film that was projected for the duration of the exhibition. The painstaking work of a writer creating a document is turned into snapshots for each visitor, slices of an ongoing timescale. But it also places the viewer within the larger perspective, as if they’re holding a grain of sand in their hands, standing on the beach. This also relates to Barba’s method of working: “It’s about experiencing the space for a long time – so with my piece ‘Time As Perspective’, I filmed oil pumps in the desert. I saw them many times, but made a piece about it many years later. When I’m making the film, I spend a lot of time in the place, watching the landscape from different perspectives”. 

Though she is eclectic when making a piece, she is very precise when it comes to planning a show. “I place my works to create a site-conditioned architecture,” she says, explaining the models of the exhibition spaces she’s used, piled in a corner. 

The architectural side of Barba’s work is abundantly clear in her forthcoming work for a performance in New York. Barba reuses previous pieces, such as “Stating the Real Sublime” (a projector suspended by its own blank film), which will be synchronised to shine white light into the projection booth. Barba shows Sleek a diagram of a cinema and points out a live choir, orchestra and sculptures using projectors. All the elements of a feature film she’s currently shooting, exploded into components in their natural habitat.

It’s by confronting gallery space with evidence of film’s materiality that Barba turns the conceptual into a concrete object that creates a direct engagement in a way that’s impossible with a two-dimensional narrative. “The object is like having another protagonist in the space. You start a dialogue with it.” Because after all, it takes something material to create anything – no matter how cinematic.

Taken from Sleek 39  ”Future / Perfect”

Beyond Tomorrow at Dusseldorf’s Quadriennale