From May 5 to October 8, 2017, Pirelli HangarBicocca presents Rosa Barba’s solo exhibition “From Source to Poem to Rhythm to Reader,” curated by Roberta Tenconi: a project that brings together fourteen works made since 2009, including 35mm and 16mm films, kinetic sculptures, and site-specific pieces.
Barba’s exhibition “From Source to Poem to Rhythm to Reader,” hosted in the Shed space at Pirelli HangarBicocca, weaves an intense dialogue between the works on view and the industrial setting that houses them. The five films in the show, seen here for the first time in Italy, include The Empirical Effect (2009), an exploration of the landscape around Vesuvius as a web of natural, mental, and cultural forces, and the artist's two most recent works: Enigmatic Whisper (2017), shot in the studio of artist Alexander Calder, and From Source to Poem (2016), a densely layered audio-visual narration, increasingly overlapping and condensing, analogous to white noise, filmed in the Audio-Visual Conservation Center of the Library of Congress in Culpeper, Virginia, the world’s largest multimedia archive.
Rosa Barba (b. 1972 in Agrigento, Italy, based in Berlin), whose work has won many awards and been featured at international exhibitions and festivals, has chosen film as her primary tool of expression. For years, Barba has experimented with the language of cinema and sculpture, reflecting on the poetic qualities of the natural and human landscape, exploring the idea of place as a vessel of memory, and dismantling the notion of linear time. Powerfully striking images, portraits of obsolete architecture and natural landscapes, and visions of remote deserts turn up throughout her works, combined with fragments of text and scenarios where past and present intertwine.
“What I try to express in my films is that time is based on individual and smaller collective histories and is a very malleable and flexible phenomenon. In my films there are usually different time scales running parallel. My perspective as an observer is non-judgmental. I assume reality is a fiction that is based on individual interpretations of real events. My movies mostly play with the idea that they could happen in the future as well as in the past and are trying to manifest as a utopian solution.
(Rosa Barba in conversation with Mirjam Varadinis and Solveig Øvstebø, in Time as Perspective, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2013)
The 35mm film From Source to Poem (2016), co-produced by Pirelli HangarBicocca and CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, France, with the participation of Tabakalera, Donostia, Spain, is shot in Culpeper, Virginia at the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation, part of the Library of Congress: more than 90 miles of shelves that hold a collection of over four million items, both moving-image (films, videos, television episodes) and audio recordings (music, spoken word, radio broadcasts) in obsolete formats as well as modern digital files. Following on a previous trilogy titled The Hidden Conference (2010- 15)—a project where Barba’s camera explores the storage areas of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, the Capitoline Museums in Rome, and Tate Modern in London—this new film juxtaposes voices speaking different languages with written text and words, mingling images from the Packard Campus with others shot in the desert, a place the artist considers a vast expanse of memory and an archive in its own right.
Along with desert scenes, Barba often shows us abandoned human landscapes, which have become the wreckage of a past era, places that take on a mysterious significance in our time. For instance, her film Subconscious Society, a Feature (2014) describes the end of the industrial age, alternating between a future “the present” in which protagonists are set in a type of memory theater, an evocative, moldering space, and the past “future”, set in powerful images of the bereft objects and buildings of industrial sites.
Personal histories and events are often the starting point for narratives that walk the line between experimental documentary and science fiction, where it is hard to tell memory from make-believe. The protagonists of The Empirical Effect (2009) are residents of the "red zone” around Vesuvius who survived the volcano’s last eruption in 1944. Blurring together different levels of narration, this film set around Vesuvius—for Rosa Barba a metaphor for the complex relationships between society and politics in Italy—stages an evacuation drill that has never been held.
In Rosa Barba’s practice, personal contact with the people who are tied to a given place is combined with a long, painstaking process of research and investigation. For Enigmatic Whisper (2017), her camera gained access to the studio of American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) in Roxbury, Connecticut, which has remained untouched since his death in 1976. Barba’s film offers a portrait of one of his sculptures, which has borne witness over many years to the joyful creative universe of this great figure in twentieth-century art history.
Rosa Barba’s work ultimately extends into a conceptual practice where the medium of film is employed to explore any possible aspect of its material, sculptural, and narrative qualities and the ways itarticulates space. Rolls of film or 16mm projectors often become compositional elements in kinetic sculptures that project sequences of colored light, focusing attention on the idea of movement and rhythm.
In The Long Poem Manipulates Spatial Organizations (2014), for instance, the projector is tilted 45 degrees to create a distorted image in which cut-out letters unfold across the screen like the notes of a score.
Whilst in Hear, There, Where the Echoes Are (2016), beams of light and color pour into the space and over visitors through a kinetic installation of sound and light, with five projectors synchronized to the rhythm of a drum score, showing a more performative aspect of Rosa Barba’s work.
On the occasion of the exhibition “From Source to Poem to Rhythm to Reader,” from summer 2017 a catalog titled From Source to Poem will be available with contributions by Rosa Barba, Manuel Borja-Villel, Giuliana Bruno, Joan Jonas, Élisabeth Lebovici and Roberta Tenconi. The publication is bilingual, Italian and English, and published by Hatje Canz and Pirelli HangarBicocca.