Rosa Barba
Annual Magazine - N°5, 2012

Timothée Chaillou: Talking about Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day (2009), you once said that ‘the installation consists of five 16mm projectors forming a chorus. The idea behind the installation is the Venetian polychoral style of the late Renaissance and early Baroque – a type of music involving spatially separate choirs singing alternately at a time when the theocentric construction of the world was slowly being replaced by a humanistic idea of reality and choirs were allowed to sing about ideas as well. The lyrics, projected as fragments of text, make a statement about the future and analyze the status quo through a multitude of voices. The projectors are co-ordinated with each other and speed up or slow down according to the text. They follow a choreographed order by capturing a moment of reformation and translating it into silent choreography… the projectors create a “humming” sound as they slow down and speed up.’

Rosa Barba: The piece is a staged performance. The lyrics begin to make sense once you’ve experienced the piece for a while. Then the viewer starts to make connections and gradually understand the piece as a single collective voice. The words themselves are like signs on the wall, indicating directions. Once played together they become a formation. The viewer becomes a ‘live-editor’ as a kind of story is created while being performed in its own choreography. And yes, the idea is derived from the polychoral styles you mention.

TC: Why the name Coro Spezzato? What is metaphorically broken? Or what is really broken?

RB: Coro Spezzato is a name invented for a choir in Venice during the Renaissance. It’s called ‘broken’ as it does not work like a classical choir, the choir is spatially fragmented. The different voices have broken rhythms; they react to each other with questions and answers.

TC: Did you write the lyrics for Coro Spezzato?

RB: I took some original lyrics as a starting-point, describing a situation in terms of the present and possible future. I translated this into our times, into a form of statement.

TC: Is it an opera or a drama?

RB: It’s fiction.

TC: Does the installation recall a magic lantern, in that each word sheds ‘a little light’?

RB: Yes, little thoughts – expressed with light.

TC: Does the fading colour of the projected words reflect nostalgia?

RB: No, this is only part of my filming process. I gave some words a kind of visual punctuation.

TC: Do you think you are using obsolete technology with your old projectors? Why did you choose to work with film instead of video?

RB: No technology is obsolete as far as I am concerned. Film is a medium that has qualities you can’t replace. It always has a perform-oriented character which I include in my installations. Nostalgia is something that reminds you of the past and cannot be repeated. As it is a photographic process, film has a special presence for me with great potential for storing memories and history. I never use rediscovered footage in my film installations. My films are made out of new ideas. They’re anchored in the present, and relate closely to the possibility of light in images – which cannot be produced by video. So I don’t think my pieces have anything to do with nostalgia.

TC: Do you use old projectors as a stand against new technology? Why are you interested in these kinds of ‘bodies’ which ‘speak/talk’ with images?

RB: I’m interested in the ‘structuralism’ of film. Each component - like ‘sound,’ image, text and material - has its own character and can be removed or reinforced or exist on its own. This is not really possible with video where all the components are merged and translated into digital codes. For example, the sound on a film is like a drawing or a sign added to the material. There are all these little ‘worlds’ that create a universe. I’m interested in this subtle interrogation into - and co-optation of - industrial cinema-as-subject via various kinds of what might be called ‘stagings’ – of ‘the local’, the non-actor, gesture, genre, information, expertise and authority, the mundane – removed from the social reality within which they were observed and which qualifies them as components of the work – to be framed, redesigned and represented. The effect of this contests and recasts truth and fiction, myth and reality, metaphor and material to a disorientating degree, ultimately extending into a conceptual practice that also recasts the viewer’s own staging as an act of radical and exhilarating reversal – from being the receiver of an image (a subject of control) to being in and amongst its engine room(s), looking out.

TC: Is a projector a podium for images?

RB: It’s the images’ body.

TC: Are you tempted to create a ‘sort of imageless cinema’?

RB: Yes, a large part of my research involves work on this. But it also involves creating an orchestrated, spatial cinema.

TC: It’s often claimed that movies or videos engage issues of temporality. I think this is too restrictive and neglects other aspects of movies such as movement, materiality of the image, and the films themselves.

RB: I’m preoccupied by the immanent aspects of film: how the projectors function, the perception in space, the materiality of the medium itself – not just optically speaking but in its materiality, in sound and time. I’m also interested in an image’s haphazard and psychic dimensions; the speculative narrative that conjures up invisible landscapes...landscapes with unseen histories, sometimes even pure text-landscapes.

TC: Are you attracted by movies in which we can see the technical material?

RB: Not really.

TC: You’ve said that you are more interested in texts about cinema than cinema itself. Do you share this idea with anybody else?

RB: In a nutshell – Giordano Bruni, when he writes that ‘the Observer is always at the centre of things.’

TC: Was it ‘a two-dimensional analogy or a metaphor’?

RB: I was thinking about this title while working on my exhibition at the Art Centre in Vassivière, especially as regards White Museum, which involved projecting white films on to Lac Vassivière – a huge artificial lake under which a village was submersed in the 1950s. I was thinking about the fiction that lies under the lake’s surface which I turned into a screen – a two-dimensional screen… although the lake actually inhabits a whole three-dimensional world which I enacted by facing the film light on to it. So, through the cinematographic process, the lake turned into a metaphor for historic revelation.

TC: You said of your film The Empirical Effect (2009), which you made in Naples, that the ‘main attention is aimed at Vesuvius, where nature is exploited like a giant media spectacle.’ Please tell us more about this. How does your film avoid repeating this ‘media spectacle’?

RB: The Empirical Effect charts the stories of a society whose lives are full of incredible tension yet are paralyzed and docile. At the foot of this sleeping monster, the Mafia runs its empire, filtering untold numbers of illegal Chinese migrants into a secretive parallel society. They remain visible only in their social impact; all official attention meanwhile is focused on the volcano in order to filter reality by dramatizing it within the media – a powerful structure beyond comprehension. It is perhaps similar in this sense to how the obscure social situation at the foot of the volcano is mystically narrated. Even history behaves ironically here; the last eruption in 1944, during World War II, coincided with the US Army’s bombing of the region. The protagonists of The Empirical Effect witnessed this catastrophic 1944 eruption with shooting taking place during a test evacuation in Summer, 2009. I worked closely with the Osservatorio Vesuviano in Naples and with inhabitants of the ‘Red Zone’ – presenting them as a community separated from their original context and placed in a new one (the old Osservatorio next to the crater) to reveal unexplored aspects of their existence. The mix of their views and stories creates a realized utopia – a place where nothing seems contradictory but which includes absurd ideas and paradoxical actions within a single frame.

TC: You call Vesuvius ‘a metaphor for the complex relationships between society and politics in Italy.’ Could you explain why and how?

RB: In The Empirical Effect, I propose Vesuvius as a central metaphor for the complex relationships between society and politics in Italy. Its powerful, unpredictable, destructive existence - along with its location in a densely populated area of the Mediterranean - ensure it is ever-present in the collective memory. Science has yet to discover how to control this immense force of nature, even though it is invisibly tied to the inhabitants and their environment. The volcano’s activity is often used to distract people from social and political issues.

TC: Deleuze said that Pasolini used a hand-held camera in order to ‘feel the camera.’ How has Pasolini influenced your work? Is this emphasis on feeling the camera important to you?

RB: I admire the narrative forms Pasolini constructs in his films. My use of film comes from a highly personal and self-evident need. The film camera has always been my tool for staging and observing. My work has a very performative aspect in my fictions – it means that the limitation of valuable film-roll is necessary to achieve and construct my point of view. It gives each scene a unique character. The way I use the camera is also tied up with the possibilities of film material as regards light and speed. I do most of the film-editing myself during the shooting, in the camera itself. The presence of the camera is also used like another character in the story. Using a hand-held camera helps me dialogue more closely with the characters in the story. It’s more about having a rhythmic approach to a scene.

TC: Serge Daney says that ‘the beauty about live broadcasting is reality itself.’ And what is your reaction to Slavoj Zizek's statement: ‘Today, anxiety seems to arise from the prospect of NOT being exposed to others’ gaze at all times, so that the subject needs the camera’s gaze as a kind of ontological guarantee of his/her being’? Is this important in your work?

RB: No, my use of the camera is not about offering a ‘gaze.’ It’s about participation and dialogue. One doesn’t exist without the other.

TC: Do you feel close to Barbara Kruger when she writes ‘my work is more about pleasure; desire only exists when there’s absence. And I’m not interested in the desire of the image... I am basically interested in suggesting that we don’t need to destroy difference’?

RB: I am very much interested in the absence of images.

TC: In my opinion it’s better for artists to formulate the ideas they wish to express before finding the forms in which they ultimately develop these ideas. As Thomas Demand said, ‘the medium itself entails a boring context.’ So the form is not really a project in itself and, in the end, ‘the substance checks the activity of the mind’ (Jean-Luc Moulène). Why don't we look at the world through art rather than narrowing our view on to the forms depicted?

RB: To me, the medium is a gesture for the material that carries the idea and cannot be ignored. I think a good drawing gives the sheet of paper a voice as well. An idea needs to merge into reality and connect with it in the work. In the end, the idea can disappear and only the connection remains – otherwise the artwork stays as untouchable and holy-enraptured. The material or medium is essential for this process and disappears completely once the artwork is finished.

TC: Do you think of your films as sensual?

RB: Sure, it’s part of my work to bring all the elements together in a casual, sensitive way. In the end, many decisions are made intuitively, and the sensual element of each piece is elementary for its completion. The term ‘sensuality’ implies that a complexity of information comes together casually. I guess this is inherent in every artwork.

TC: The film-maker Bruno Dumont has said that ‘the landscape decides; it is the starting point of all my films. Once I have the landscape down, I write a story that happens in it. I spend my time filming the landscape: it is the backdrop. Cinema is an art of landscape. The protagonists are just tiny figures moving about in a landscape. There is even an effort to pare down the protagonists’ activity, have them do nothing so as to let the landscape appear. The history of painting is the same: the figure disappears so that the background can emerge.’ Do you feel close to all this?

RB: Yes, it’s beautifully put. Most of my ideas come from reading and interpreting a landscape and developing a story from there. It’s as if my stories were already engraved in a landscape and all I need to do is dismantle them.

TC: To Bruno Dumont, the desert is ‘very slow territory.’ In 29 Palms (2003) and Flandres (2006), the desert symbolizes dread and violence; it is a cathartic space where passions can explode, an abstraction that orientates the self towards introspection and - because of its size - makes the subject smaller. ‘The desert is so big that it reduces the self. This reduction forces the self to be condensed, and almost renders the self abstract.’ Do you feel close to this opinion? Could you talk in this respect about Western Round Table (2007), They Shine (2007), Waiting Grounds (2007) and the importance of Mojave Desert?

RB: The perspective on the desert in my stories is less introspective and self-aware - and more of a utopian interpretation of the desert as an undefined and infinite stage. My characters are usually more abstract; they translate the possibilities of those vast landscapes into human perspectives. The scales between large and small are, rather, dynamic and constantly shifting questions on how the human mind tries to qualify and judge its environment.

TC: The desert is not the opposite of a space; it constitutes itself as the image, the reference, of a primary earth. Events in the desert are superfluous; the landscape is sovereign, bodies wander. Do you think that shooting the desert emphasizes the ‘physicality’ and the presence of characters in relation to this landscape? Does the cinematic space become ‘un-familiar’ and pure and reduced to a coloured surface?

RB: As I said, to me the desert is a vast stage where anything can happen. It’s a kind of democratic starting-point for a subject – a kind of timeless laboratory.

TC: How can the desert lead to a hallucinatory vision of a landscape or set? Is the desert the place for drying-out shapes and characters? Is the desert per se a place of alteration and mirage? Is the desert psychedelic?

RB: Perhaps. I’m tempted to think so, although the notion of psychedelia is not essential to me.

TC: Are you irritated that critics, in describing your work, often talk of ‘between fiction and reality’? What is not between fiction and reality, given that our memory is selective?

RB: Yes, very irritated. This definition is, in any case, only a strategy to find a less dogmatic interpretation of reality. It’s all about reality; science-fiction, for example, is often misinterpreted as a genre totally derived from reality whereas it has great power to expose aspects of presence which already imply a certain impact on the future and on political and social behaviour, which consequently leads to disasters. To me, fiction is only a way of interpreting the present.
Rosa Barba
They Shine, 2007
Rosa Barba
Coro Spezzato, 2009
Posa Barba
Empirical Effect, 2010