New York

Rosa Barba, From Source to Poem, 2016, 35 mm, color, sound, 12 minutes.

Rosa Barba, From Source to Poem, 2016, 35 mm, color, sound, 12 minutes.

Rosa Barba

As those who have thoroughly embraced the cinematic experience in a theater can attest, a film can seem to have its own time, and somehow, somewhere, that time continues forever, even without us. Over the past twenty years, several of Rosa Barba’s film-projection installations have expanded on a Borgesian question of how we might be able to see time’s essential infinitude. Along the way, Barba has discovered various methods for reconstructing cinematic time within the sculptural realm. To do this, the artist often utilizes her own documentary footage, embedded within large spatial constructions. These display structures may redirect and filter projected light or illuminate written language. In concert with the urgency or poetry of each artwork’s subject, from the social-justice issues inherent in climate change to the history of the effort to measure the size of the universe, Barba demonstrates the scalar relationship of the physical to the temporal. For instance, in one work we see a huge glacier that may collapse at any moment, while in another an island’s inhabitants focus on the groaningly slow movement of the ground beneath their feet. In all of Barba’s works, time—slow or fast—appears to progress in its own unique cycle, whether we are present to observe it or not.

At the start of her first major survey in New York was a kinetic work, Coupez Ici (Cut Here), 2012, which we might use as a Rosetta stone for reading the analogies, poetries, metaphors, and lexicons contained within her varied oeuvre. Elegant and modestly sized, it takes the form of a wall-mounted oak light box, beckoning the viewer to enter, like a sign for a small cinema. Behind a sheet of glass is a seamlessly spliced film leader inscribed with the message NE JAMAIS COUPER CETTE AMORCE! (Never cut this strip!), coiling, spooling, flowing. Driven by an invisible motor, the 35-mm film stock is threaded across rollers as though it were a Möbius strip. The leader was found as is by the artist, originally created as direction for the projectionist. But in this work the text becomes a piece of surreal concrete poetry, actualizing the ceaselessness of the time contained within the artwork.

At first glance, Bending to Earth, 2015, and From Source to Poem, 2016—two major filmic sculptural works—might appear to simply consist of machinery for presenting a 35-mm film loop. Especially evocative elements of these works are 1960s East German gray-steel Dresden D2 projectors and attendant-modified 1970s automated Italian platter systems for looping the film reels. Yet the medium here is not only film and sculpture, but analogy, especially as a mode or practice, where the subject is an analogue of the method by which the images are created.

In Bending to Earth, we view aerial images of strange rectangular mounds of earth and water, storage ponds for radioactive waste in the American West. Throughout, we hear the haunting voice of musician Lætitia Sadier (a member of the band Stereolab, as well as a participant in other projects), describing how the pools of water are designed to stay intact for centuries, until the radioactivity held within them decays. In a parallel manner, the film stock winds around the spindle, creating a storehouse of images that pass around the hexagon of studs on the platter, slowly disintegrating in the process—just as the rain, Sadier tells us, is speedily eroding the foundations of the dikes: the only thing between us and disaster.

Using a related analogical structure, From Source to Poem connects otherworldly footage of glowing, pulsing solar-power collectors to dramatic shots of the massive moving-image-and-recorded-sound collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Within the film and outside it, luminescence “writes” images into an archive—the projection displays what sunlight has inscribed onto the cellulose acetate, even as we view imagery featuring shelves and shelves of carefully preserved, stacked reels of film in the library. The result is time in an endless regression.

In her awareness of time’s varying scales, Barba points to an alternative to the stream and proliferation of images as information. She seems to suggest that the image may live in its own temporal world, continuing on forever.