Stage Archive is the title of an exhibition cured by Chiara Parisi and Andrea Villani shown at Mart (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Trento and Rovereto) until August 28. In this exhibition Rosa Barba explains and reinterprets the historical archives of the museum in which futurist documents and works are stored.

Rosa Barba was born in Agrigento, 1972, but she now lives and works in Berlin. Lately her personal exhibition at the Tate of London ended and last year she was awarded with the “Nam June Paik Award”. She is one of the most appreciated artist of her generation. Her research is always precise and sharp. It aims to the dissection and fragmentation of the cinematographic language to obtain its minimal grammar unities. It is a sort of surgical re-invention of the medium: projector, light, celluloid, frame, text, so

und, images, every element becomes, in the imagination of the artist, alive again, as an independent part of an organic whole, under a sculptural and performative perspective. Cinema can then reborn as a space of interpersonal relations, dialogue, sharing, collective vision that often dissolves in the contemporary range of use or, to quote Francesco Casetti, within the “re-locations” of the post-media era.

Rosa Barba seems to put into spectators’ hands linguistic fragments of the cinema of the origins like they were letters of an alphabet used to rewrite what was considered the great visual utopia of the twentieth century.

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Thanks to a project carried out by the Mart in Rovereto, in collaboration with Fondazione Galleria Civica di Trento, the artist comes to Italy with a personal exhibition divided in two different spaces. In Trento there are some of her most recent works such as Private Tableaux, Let me see it, One Way Out and some of her new works like White Curtain, which is a phrase carved in white felt that introduces the exhibition. In Rovereto there are three site specific works, which were ideated and realized by taking into account the space of the museum.

The importance of taking into account the museum space was so strong that it is possible to read on the central stairs’ walls that lead to the exhibition floors a sign that leads to a potential and virtual museum. We could even call it ‘fictional’ to pay homage to André Malraux. No Titles , made with the institutional lettering of the museum, is in fact a sort of pleasant disorientation inside the museum itself.

“The Observer is always in the International centre of things for the study of Futurism” – writes the artist referring to the basement, perceived from the stairs of the first floor as a huge central cavity, as a vacuum at the centre of the building that increasly sinks as the higher floors are reached. It is right there, at a step from the archives where the museum’s heart and brain live, that we meet two sculptures made by the artist with the aim to put on stage utopia and the visionary immagination of the avante-gardes at the beginning of the century.

Theory in order to shed light is a diptych made of felt. On one side texts and graphical elements are carved. They come from Fortunato Depero’s sceneries of movies that he never produced. On the other side there is a rectangular cut that reproduces the white frame, a visual and conceptual element that is typical of Rosa Barba’s research. The light passes through the felt and projects on the wall, where the shape of letters and geometrical figures become absolutely visible. It’s like the light goes beyond the screen and reinterpret some of the cinematographic historic avant-garde visionary ideas, like the one that breaks the limits imposed by the frame of the shot and by the frame of the screen itself..

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Although those utopias have nowadays become possible due to the malleability and ductility of electronic and digital media Rosa Barba preferes to put on stage desire, the power of imagination, the visionary force, the “not yet” that leaves any opportunity open, the emptiness that preceeds any beginning and that contains all the energy of the creative gesture. It’s like a blank page, or a not exposed film, like the ones of Stage Archive, the huge circular sculpture that named this exhibition.

It is an archive on stage, that follows the perfect avand-garde style of the machinic aesthetics and that reproduces a sort of concert performed by many voices, a “mechanical ballet” of emptyness, where the most important things are not the documents in the archive, but the gap, the interval, the absence that allows the creation of new imaginative scenarios.

I had the pleasure to meet Rosa Barba at the Mart museum, in its suggestive rooms, rigth close to her works. Our conversation, aimed to retrace some of the key elements of her research, started exactly from there, from that emptiness, that could also be perceived as a beginning…

Rosa Barba: In my opinion emptiness can always become action. It is a way to put energy on stage. Instead of adding something, I prefer deducting. Fragmentation characterizes all my work. I always look for those points and gaps in the history of the place where I find myself to wornk in. Even in my longest movies what interests me is a trace of the story that has not been documented yet, a story that somehow already exists but is still not part of the real story.

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Giulia Simi: In your work, the document is another element that shares with the emptiness a sort of vital energy and creative potential. The object-document is not at the core of your attention. It is rather the invisible gap between one document and the other what interests you.

Rosa Barba: You’re right. In my movies, for example, even the landscape represents a document. Every trace is a sort of document that constantly changes. The document is never something still for me. For istance even people can be documents. In my movies the actors do not have to play a part. They are people in the middle of the story. In the movie I shot on the Vesusio (Split Field) there are people who survived the last eruption. Well, for me those people are that scenario’s document. It is this document that captures my attention and that is also linked to the mise-en-scene, to the creation of potentialities.

Giulia Simi: What does working in the field of cinema as a medium mean for you? In a previous interview you stated: “The film is not the most open medium of all, but I like the limitations that it offers.” This statement proves a very different attitude from the one of some video arts pioneers who hoped to be able, through the electronic media, to go beyond the limitations imposed by the cinema and create something completely new. But for you it’s rather the opposite. Is the limit itself a space for creativity?

Rosa Barba: Yes, in almost all my movies I have to deal with limitations, also temporal ones. If I have for example a 10 min film and I have to put everything on stage then I have to try to edit in real time which also means I have to be careful with what I film. Another important thing is the sound. The noise that the camera makes when I turn it on has always been extremely important for me. It is part of a sort of performance that you miss during the video. And then there is the huge amount of material that has to be handled. The video implies endless opportunities to create something. These opportunities however make difficult sometimes to understand what the key moment is.

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Giulia Simi: And then I guess there is the material aspect that you must consider. The film, the projector…

Rosa Barba: Yes, precisely. Cinema has a sculptural value for me. Yet this aspect gets certainly lost during the video. There is a sort of interactivity with the physical medium that is able to create another sort of space. It is then possible to find a moment for a shared vision, for an action that can be experienced with the public. I consider this dialogic aspect fundamental. There is a sort of performativity in the relation with the spectator and between spectators themselves. It’s the collective vision. And it’s extremely different from the typical fruition of digital media, for which you can buy a DVD and watch it at home, alone. It is a very different thing.

For 15 years I have been working with movies and I can say that its fade is an extremely recent event. Since the beginning I followed the world of film festivals, which maintains the dialogic aspect alive through the discussion after the vision of the movie. Nonetheless I have always been attracted by the performative aspect, the transformation of such action. I began very soon to work with installations, in order to put on stage also machines. In any case my work is always in progress. I never think of my works as something finished, I like to think of them as something travelling, in constant metamorphosis.

Giulia Simi: Let’s talk about your felt sculptures. The projected light on the wall reminds of cinema. But they also remind, in my opinion, of the memory machine, often described by scientists and philosophers, e.g. Freud, through the metaphor of the writing leaving traces on a surface. In your case the writing pierces the surface…

Rosa Barba: Exactly, like if it was something negative. I consider they are like instruments that have to pass through the negative in order to become visible.

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Giulia Simi: There is also the matter of the cut, which is more likely a wound..

Rosa Barba: Yes, it is. But I never thought about it. First of all the work was a research about the frame. Each letter finds its way out through the material, which could also be found through the drawing. In any case the letters are burnt by the light. For me it’s like finding my way out from the cinematographic system. A way out from a specific system of functioning to look for another type of language.

Giulia Simi: And then there is the colour white, an element that always comes back in your work. What does white represent to you?

Rosa Barba: It is like the reset button. It is a gap, but it’s also resetting. When I started my first movies, I used the colour white to bring the narration into another level. I used white to fragment the story. When I used two or three stories at the same time, the white is useful to create different levels. It was very powerful because it was able to lead to new temporalities, and for that reason I always considered it extremely important. Then I began to use it exclusively. I said to myself: “All right, let’s take off everything else and leave the white”. And I made a lots of sculptures with only white standing out on the background.

Giulia Simi: And what about black…

Rosa Barba: Black for me is like a break, it’s like taking a breath, while the colour white is like a jump towards a new form of imagination. Just like in Stating the Real Sublime, where I hung the projector on its own narration, on its own film that tries in this way to create the white.. I researched a lot about this visual element. As you can see also here – it is the first time I use two felts in a composition – I presented it again through the rectangular cut of the second felt.

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Giulia Simi: Last question about the concept of archive. This concept has been fundamental in this exhibition which is a dialogue between the historical archives of this museum. However, the same concept seems to be present also in most of your work, in which a relation with the past is often present. I am thinking about your movies on underground architecture. There is a sort of digging, an attempt to bring back to light something uncovered…

Rosa Barba: Yes, it’s true. The archaeological work, the digging in order to discover something always comes back, over and over…

Giulia Simi: It is a very different operation from using found footage or images found and presented through editing, like some filmakers do. It is like a metaphorical, symbolic work…

Rosa Barba: Absolutely. In fact I never use found footage. Editing has a different value for me. It is action, or what happens in front of the public. Even here, with the archives I had, I did not care about extracting some documents, but rather about getting inspired by them. I study and observe them in order to create a new artwork.