Interview by Lauren Velvick
Rosa Barba’s new work, filmed in Manchester’s grandiose, but dilapidated Albert Hall, forms half of Subconscious Society; a joint commission between Cornerhouse and Turner Contemporary, Margate. Also on show as part of Barba’s current exhibition, are Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day (2009) and Time Machine (2007).
Lauren Velvick: What interests you about abandoned places, and obsolete technology?
Rosa Barba: I’m generally interested in how little histories are inscribed in landscapes, in buildings; sometimes they’re inscribed in people. That’s why I never really work with actors, I try to find people around a subject I’m researching that are carrying this inscription with them.
LV: Do you think there are messages to gleaned from this process?
RB: Yes, I hope that there are new possibilities brought about by collecting these kinds of messages, that aren’t manifested anywhere else. Usually we build our society, and base our future plans on things that have been sorted out for us by politicians, or whoever, but I think that with art we can try to collect other messages, and archive them in a different way and offer other solutions.
LV: I wonder if by searching for histories in this way, what you find might seem more genuine than conventional discourses?
RB: Genuine isn’t the right word. My research goes into a micro world, and of course there are millions of micro worlds. But I’m choosing just one of these worlds.
Henriette Huldisch: You’re getting these personal stories, and little anecdotes, which seem open and enigmatic. It really shows that there’s more than one way to tell a story. I don’t know if it’s more genuine or not – there are just lots of facets to a bigger picture.
RB: It’s kind of like a geological approach as well, not just focusing on what people say but rather the sounds that spaces have, and material has. Stories of the material, of the people, of the sound are all orchestrated together to try and make this other archive.
LV: Relating to your use of analogue film equipment; would you agree that technology takes on something of the art object as it becomes obsolete?
RB: Well, the thing is with film, it has always been so close to a market, and technologies and markets, of course, change all the time. So we’re moving into a digital world, and film seems nostalgic, but in a way it has always been an independent medium, and now I think it is able to be recognised as such within the arts, like sculpture, or like painting. I’m happy that film isn’t so much connected any more to the business of TV and movies, because as it is taken out of ‘use.’ It is becoming more able to be viewed as an independent medium.
LV: In line with that, how do you feel about your work which utilises film in this way, being shown in the same building as traditional cinemas – do you think that this will affect the reception, do you want it to?
RB: I was always interested in fragmenting how a film can be seen, in my work the viewer becomes quite active – for instance in Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day you are an editor as you walk through. My wish is to bring research back into the cinema again, with new approaches, so I guess it’s nice to have these things in the same house, and it has actually never happened to me before.
LV: How do you go about gaining an understanding of place and history in the different locations where you work – for instance, Manchester and Kent for ‘Subconscious Society’ – do you have a particular method?
RB: I had quite a few weeks of research time, intense research time, and I had previously stayed in both [Manchester and Kent] for quite long periods of time. I also use a lot of aerial views, which has often been part of my work.
HH: Rosa’s process is very intuitive, there’s never a script. A lot of it happens whilst shooting; improvising whilst on location.
LV: What particularly drew you to The Albert Hall, with it’s grand sense of decay, instead of other remnants of industry in Manchester?
RB: I liked that it has had different uses, it was first a church and then it was a theatre; it was a cinema in between as well, and then it was used for political elections, it was used for education, and it was kind of reflecting a whole period of time and of memories. Also, striking was that everybody said it was the most ‘haunted house’ in the city, and it made me think a lot about the relationships between England and ghosts.
LV: How are the two sides of ‘Subconscious Society’ linked?
RB: The idea is that they come together in a feature film later on, and I’m also making these publications; Printed Cinema, which I see is a kind of ‘pre-screening’ that happens in different places. With these two exhibitions, you could travel to both sides, and I like this idea that you have to travel for a few hours to put these two parts together, and so we see parts of the Kent locations here, and parts of the Manchester locations appear in the film there. In Kent the film is much more landscape based, entering the subconscious in a meditative manner, and here you are with people, and in an interior space.
LV: Could you talk a bit more about your choices to talk to people in Manchester, but focus on the landscape in Kent? Was this to do with what you already knew about each place?
RB: Yes, Manchester was more striking to me as a really habited area, here it feels totally natural that you should meet with people. Whereas in Kent it was these objects in the landscape that had been built to protect England that I was drawn to, and they are the protagonists of the film.
LV: Whilst you work in very different geographical locations, do you tend towards places that you have been to before, or have a connection to?
RB: Not always, for instance I made a film on an island in Sweden; I had been invited there to propose a project, and then as I spent some time there I heard stories, and I read about another tiny Island close by that was drifting every year which inspired me.
LV: You mention the ‘Printed Cinema’ publications, text also features prominently in your sculptural work. How do you see text and reading as linked to film?
RB: It started nearly 10 years ago, when I wanted to translate film into printed matter. With Printed Cinema they’re always based on one project and I use the surrounding research material kind of like a secondary literature to the project – including all the notes I take, and the photographs. Not that I’m ‘showing’ photographs, but more using them as a research material – and as such they sometimes end up in the Printed Cinema.
LV: Do you then see this accompanying documentary and research material as part of the art work?
RB: Yes, it becomes an object, but is ongoing and never finished. I see them as screenings, so ideally each one would only appear in one city, like a little film festival, and you would be able to collect them.
LV: Is travelling between cities something that you would like to encourage?
RB: Yeah, I think it’s important to have this time. It is a way of editing something over different cities, as you have time in between.
LV: Editing as travelling is a concept I’ve not really encountered before, can you elaborate a bit on that?
RB: Yes, it comes out in the way I approach filming and also making sculptural pieces. I like to create gaps by using white, blank images or black images, and these are designed to help you navigate into a different time or a different narrative and so I would see this travelling time as another gap, where you can travel into a different narrative and then arrive in it.
HH: I have been thinking about how it’s going to be for people who only see one side of the project, and how that might change when they see the two films together. Whilst the two exhibitions are stand alone shows, I think you will get the most out of the project if you see them both.
LV: Can you tell me a bit about the future plans for the project; are you planning an edition of ‘Printed Cinema’?
RB: Maybe, we hope.
HH: We’re planning.
Rosa Barba:Subject to Constant Change is on display at Cornerhouse, Manchester until 24 March 2013.
Lauren Velvick is an artist, curator and writer based in Manchester.