A Vessel Named Film

Rosa Barba, Portrait (c) Sara Masüger

Rosa Barba takes film as her material and cinema as a dispositive to create wholly new spaces. During Berlin Art Week her works are on view twice—at Neue Nationalgalerie and as part of a group show at Akademie der Künste. We spoke with the artist.

Your work on Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie is some sort of ›probe‹ into the deeper layers of the building. Terms like »oscillation«, »fissure«, »subconscious«, and »history« appear as dictionary-like excerpts. What role does the historical or even the archive play in your work in general? And to what extent does film lend itself to exploring the back and forth of what is apparent and what is hidden?   

These keywords with modulating meaning are part of my ›Fictional Library‹. In my artistic practice, they activate and connect different bodies of work as interlinked themes to form an emerging understanding of a space beyond cinema. This space transcends real space, imagined spaces, and virtual and augmented spaces, which all collapse into each other with their inscribed histories. The ›Fictional Library‹ can be considered as a definition of the space where work titles (expanded experiments on projection, both finalised and in progress) and key words or phrases (expanded definitions and thoughts on the immaterial medium created through light) meet, according to a specific arrangement within—and act as caesuras and dashes within and through the projection in this recent film ›Plastic Limits‹. This approach of a ›Fictional Library‹ opens up the possibility to think about the world and its real spaces, as well as the sonic level of experience, in a different way.


What role does analogue film as a medium play in your work? How do form and content merge in that respect?   

By reconfiguring the physical terms of cinematic space, my aim is to also expand and destabilise the conceptual terms of cinematic space, so that the formal terms by which we understand that space are extended to engage with and incorporate spaces that are not conventionally associated with cinema. This could occur, for example, by expanding the works into public spaces or landscapes. The goal is to explore the implications of how those terms coincide with the terms of disciplines and areas of enquiry that exist beyond the scope of what we conceive of as cinema but that share some of its foundational components and terms.


You often work with musicians and seem to consider soundtrack in general to be very important. How does sound figure into your work—in terms of music, but also the rattling of projectors?  

Sound plays a very important role in my work. Despite often collaborating with musicians for my film soundtracks, I also use it as source material and as a layer on its own. I often develop sound objects as well which modulate for example material surfaces like in ›Conductor‹ (2014) or interact with water as a membrane, like ›Fosse d’Orchestre‹ (2014) or performative pieces like ›Hear, There, Where the Echoes Are‹  (2016—21) , a sound performance by drummer Chad Taylor triggers light beams from several projectors resulting in a synchronized light projection—a choreography that seems to disassemble the cinematic device and dissolve the image.

Rosa Barba, In a Perpetual Now, Ausstellungsansicht / Exhibition view, Neue Nationalgalerie, 2021. © Rosa Barba / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2021, Photo © Andrea Rossetti

Rosa Barba, In a Perpetual Now, Ausstellungsansicht / Exhibition view, Neue Nationalgalerie, 2021. © Rosa Barba / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2021, Photo © Andrea Rossetti
Rosa Barba, Stating the Real Sublime, 2009, Installation view at Tate London, 2010. © Rosa Barba / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021

Works of you can be seen at two venues during Berlin Art Week: it features at Neue Nationalgalerie but also as part of a group exhibition at Akademie der Künste. The latter exhibition draws heavily on artistic tendencies and approaches from the middle of the previous century. Is that period a frame of reference for you as well? And if so, how? To what extent, for example, do you see your works relating to so-called Expanded Cinema‹ and its approach to film as a material?   

In my work, I interrogate the industry of cinema with respect to various forms of staging, such as gesture, genre, information, and documentation, taking them out of their conventional contexts and reshaping and present them anew. In this way, I experiment with and expand time-based forms into sculptural objects or speculations, that is, into spaces that are self-organised; it is an ever-changing, ever evolving, shifting process. This surely connects also to some ideas which started with the film material experimentations around ›Expanded Cinema‹. In my work, cinema becomes an instrument to interrogate the qualities of space. I often manipulate the apparatuses of cinema such that projectors are transformed into new mechanical objects that generate information in real time, and that turn on themselves and bend the conventions of cinema to the requirements, possibilities, or limitations of their new forms. My aim is to create spaces that are not limited by the convention of two-dimensional projection but that open up narrative possibilities by dissolving the barriers between the space of the projection and the space of the spectator as well as a space beyond. My intention is to propose a journey from cinema to another kind of film, a hyperspace whose nature and limits remain to be defined. This space beyond consists of spaces stacked on top of each other and is reached through the concept of ›embarkation,‹ that is, a journey with a change of gear in order to create new mental places of experience and consciousness.

Nothingtoseeness. Void/White/Silence
15 SEP—12 DEC 2021
Opening 15 SEP, 11am—midnight

Rosa Barba. In a Perpetual Now
22 AUG 2021—16 JAN 2022