Text by Lauren Velvick.
In Rosa Barba‘s current exhibition at Cornerhouse, it is made evident how the medium of film can fill a space like no other. The noisy, dark but glowing, and at times industrial atmosphere which is constructed by Barba, and curator Henriette Huldisch, subsumes Galleries 2 and 3. The focal point of this exhibition is undoubtedly Subconscious Society, a new film which forms part of a joint commission between Cornerhouse in Manchester, and Turner Contemporary in Margate, and can be found in a blacked-out Gallery 3. Meanwhile, situated within Gallery 2 are two of Barba’s slightly earlier works; Time Machine (2007), a glowing silkscreened script, and Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day (2009), a carefully choreographed multi-projector installation. Shown in conjunction with Subconscious Society, these two works provide an ideological and aesthetic framework for the new commission, but are also compelling in their own right.
In both galleries there is a distinct sense of being ‘behind the scenes’, and although this is certainly a product of the work itself, it can’t help but be emphasized by the site, considering that Cornerhouse is perhaps best known as an independent cinema complex. It is unusual as a viewer, and consumer, to be privy to the inner workings of the machines and structures which deliver culture, and there is a curious excitement in being allowed experience this. Indeed, due to the way in which Subconscious Society is back-projected on to a huge screen in the centre of the gallery, it is possible to walk around the screen, to walk behind the screen, and to therefore be ‘behind the scene’. Then, again, with Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day (2009), whereby modified 16mm projectors are arranged to mimic a spatially separated choir, bodily movement between and around the work is crucial, and exhilarating.
In the official copy, Barba’s new commission is described as ‘taking the industrial age as its’ subject’, a subject which I found to be exposed and illustrated strikingly well with sound. On entering gallery 3 the visitor is greeted by the rattle of three projectors running simultaneously, and whilst parts of Subconscious Society are accompanied by edited voice-overs from the local protagonists of the film, there is also a brutal, but musical soundtrack which clangs, drones and squeals; blending in with the live sound of the projectors. The way in which these mechanical sounds are accentuated is indicative of Barba’s concern with, and exploration into the physical properties of analogue film, exposing how narratives are, and can be constructed, deconstructed and represented within the medium.
As part of Subconscious Society, as well as one large projector behind a central screen, there are two smaller projectors which beam uneven quadrilateral shapes at intervals on to the lower left, and right hand sides of the screen, over-writing the film with blank creamy light. This act of overwriting, or multiple exposure is used throughout the film, with ghostly figures clambering, or stained glass windows hovering, serving to further fragment the narrative, whilst representing the inevitability of multiple viewpoints and diverse memories, through the use of techniques and effects particular to the medium. Similarly, with Barba’s two earlier works; Time Machine (2007) and Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day (2009) the expectation of linear narrative in film, of being told a story, is blatantly confounded. Text is utilised within both of these works, either printed or projected, and it is near impossible, or at least highly impractical to read every word, here Barba purposefully impairs objectivity, meaning that the viewer is unable to perceive what is shown as a whole.
Throughout Subject to Constant Change the viewer consciously edits their own experience, and it is intriguing to encounter film in this way, to be invited in and left to explore. Through her careful fragmentation of narrative and emphasis on multifarious viewpoints and voices, Barba draws attention to the plurality of individual experience and memory. She advocates the value in seeking out and taking notice of unconventional or ignored histories, by way of personal accounts and mysterious ruins, chiming in with how the clattering materiality of film is revealed in her sculptural installations.
Lauren Velvick is an artist, curator and writer based in Manchester.