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Spring Exhibitions at Turner Contemporary, Margate: Rosa Barba

Three new exhibitions have just opened at Margate’s seaside gallery, Turner Contemporary – Carl Andre: Mass and Matter, Rosa Barba: Subject To Constant Change and Turner: Turner’s Perspective. In this list, Carl Andre always comes first; he is page 1 in the gallery’s Spring programme booklet, he comes first on their website, on the sign outside the entrance, at the gallery’s front desk (“what’s on show at the moment?”… “Carl Andre, Rosa Barba and Turner”), and is, in the instance of some art critics who have visited Turner Contemporary in the last weeks, the only part of the trio written about.  

This isn’t surprising; of course Carl Andre comes first. He is a celebrity in terms of minimalist sculpture. But, Mass and Matter is less impressive than I had originally hoped for; quotations by the artist in huge letters across the wall dwarf all the sculptures within the room, reducing them to uninspired remnants of the powerful and considered works of art they are so known for being. This isn’t to say there are no good moments – Andre’s minimalist poems are interesting and provide an insight into a lesser seen part of his practice – but the overall curation feels quite clumsy.

Despite Carl Andre coming first; despite the fame his name drags behind him, it is Rosa Barba’s Subject To Constant Change that takes centre-stage here. Hers stretches across two of the gallery’s largest spaces, whilst Andre’s work is tucked away in the back room and Turner gets left with the corridor.

It is important to add that Barba’s spotlight is very much well deserved. Her work, combining film, sculpture, sound, text and installation, is thoughtful, beautiful, enigmatic, poetic and very often moving. “I work with text, film, objects, sound… but I think,” Barba explains. “I think my main interest is in light: illumination – how material passes through light. Rhythm too: how one puts rhythm in space. My work can’t really be defined by just one thing.” Throughout Subject to Constant Change, the viewer moves bathed in projector light, the olfactory glands fill with the musky smell of celluloid and, in the background, relentlessly churning filmstrips rhythmically click, merging too with the electro-acoustic, collaged soundscape of the video piece, Subconscious Society, in the next room, a new work focussing on the 19th and 20th Century history of the Kent coast and Manchester.

Subconscious Society is about how currently, a lot of things are ending that were really important to us, like book printing and watching films in cinemas. So many things that are disappearing are connected to objects in some way. I want to look at what happens to these objects which now seem so desolate and have no modern meaning to us.” The film travels through different scenes: rusty structures barely standing in the middle of the ocean, occupied by just abandoned office chairs and barnacles, strange derelict interiors and, rather enigmatically, a woman standing at an awkward angle in an auditorium. “The Royal Albert Hall in Manchester, one of the locations in the film is a place that’s changed its identity so many times – first a church, then theatre, cinema, a hall for parliament conventions… It’s a place that’s adapted to loss. The woman represents a lack of stability; she is suspended in this timeless space.”

Barba’s exploration of change and loss works as a poignant portrait of what modern technology and, simply, time has left behind; this tribute to lost objects continues in Barba’s sculptural work. In Boundaries of Consumption an old reel projector sits on the floor, endlessly regurgitating tiny, empty frames of white light; the guts of a typewriter crowns another projector in Spacelength Thought, punching out sporadic letters somewhat meaninglessly whilst concurrently projecting them in enlarged and broken forms on perspex. The most touching piece, however, is a small work which is easy to miss; In Coupez Ici a filmstrip behind glass continuously goes around on loop, folding across itself forming different shapes. Perhaps accidentally and non-intentionally, Coupez Ici brings to mind the culture cuts occurring all across Europe today: “The sentence written on the filmstrip which you see go round and round says, in French, ‘Never Cut This Piece,’” Barba explains. “The filmstrip is in an infinite loop and it continuously creates infinite new shapes. But, if you cut it… these shapes would all be gone.”

Claire Hazelton

Rosa Barba, 1 February until 6 May 2013, Turner Contemporary, Rendezvous, Margate, Kent, CT9 1HG.
Rosa Barba: Subject to Constant Change is also running at Cornerhouse, Manchester until 24 March.
www.turnercontemporary.org

Credits:

1. Rosa Barba, Subject to Constant Change, installation view at Turner Contemporary. Photography: David Grandorge. Courtesy the artist.
2. Rosa Barba, Subject to Constant Change, installation view at Turner Contemporary. Photography: David Grandorge. Courtesy the artist.
3. Rosa Barba, Subconscious Society, 2012, film still. Courtesy the artist.
4. Rosa Barba, Subconscious Society, 2012, film still. Courtesy the artist.

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