Rosa Barba

A movie projector, a 16-mm film, and an automatic mechanism hidden inside a pedestal: These are the elements used by Rosa Barba, an Italian-born artist who lives in Berlin, for Machine Vision Seekers, 2004, one of the five powerful installations in her solo exhibition “Stating the Real Sublime.” The projector, positioned on a motor-activated support, oscillates in jerking movements. It points a beam of light at the wall, projecting a line of words onto a portion of the surface; a moment later, it turns rapidly and freezes again, making the projected words run from one wall to another. The machine is immobile for a few seconds while the text itself changes. These luminous words form part of a story broken down into a sequence of phrases, projected one after another. Thus each fragment assumes its own power and takes on a value independent from the text. Words like SUSPENSION, FEAR AND CURIOSITY, ANYTHING, OUT AND OUT, VIBRATION, TREMOR, and EYE MOVEMENTS follow along in rapid succession, traversing the space. The movement of the machine and the distortion of things during the passage from one wall to another, following the geometry of the space, passing through its corners, scraping the walls, touching the floor, brushing against the shapes of gallery visitors lends the words an appearance of continual intensification. The film proceeds ad infinitum, looping the words in a continuous cycle until they completely invade the room.

Barba’s installation transforms a simple, two-dimensional projection into something that traverses things and people, striking them on various perceptual levels, using the materiality of film to go beyond normal cinematographic means. Texts are impressed and audio traces incised into the film, which, exposed to light, is modified in color and intensity. Words are transformed into shadow, and the shadow becomes a linguistic sign. Such effects are heightened in Western Round Table, 2007, a metaphoric dialogue between two projectors arranged opposite each other and which both fire off a blinding light accompanied by a faint sound track; and in Enigmatic Whistler, 2009, a work consisting of a projector resting on the floor, wrapped in its own filmstrip. The machine projects white light onto a mass of cloth letters, titled They Come and Go, 2009. These fragments are actually the discarded cutout shapes left over from the making of a pair of white felt curtains, The Indifferent Back of a View Rather Than Its Face, 2009, and The Personal Experience Behind Its Description, 2009. The curtains have been laser-cut to reveal a text that speaks of light, shadows, and reflections. Indeed, this text is literally produced when a beam of light is projected from the ceiling at the curtains, casting a shadow of the story onto the back wall via the negative space of the cutouts—one more variation on Barba’s capacity to make the flat image of a text explode in the three-dimensional space, transforming it into a total experience.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.