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Creating a utopia through film

Rosa Barba, Subconscious Society, 2013 film still 35mm

Using film of Kent and Manchester, artist Rosa Barba is trying to create a utopia in her latest exhibition. Chris Price reports.

Using film as art can feel pretentious yet the key to understanding Rosa Barba’s work is to remember her simple, innocent rule of thumb.

The Italian-German visual artist started working with photography at an early age when she inherited a camera. She very soon began experimenting with moving images using super eight film.

It was in these youthful years that she developed a sweet, childlike thread to all her work. She would try to make her ideal world from real photos and video.

“In my work I don’t observe reality; I am reinterpreting it in a certain direction by making very personal decisions,” said the Berlin-based artist, who was born in Sicily in 1972.

“I don’t pose critical questions; I am trying to invent a utopia by showing political and social mechanisms set against technical mechanisms which are themselves fragile.”

As with many artists, Rosa’s language becomes hard to follow when she talks passionately about her work. However, it is clear there is something simple and honest which she wants visitors to see when her work goes on show at Margate’s Turner Contemporary.

She said: “The paradox which results from such a tension is used to posit a utopian solution to the problem, a kind of magic which stops time and offers a slowed-down view of otherwise hidden aspects of reality. It offers an alternative reading of the past and also the future.”

Artist Rosa BarbaThe exhibition, Subject to Constant Change, will be Rosa’s most comprehensive solo presentation to date. Two spaces will show distinct parts of a newly-commissioned film work. Central to the exhibition will be Subconscious Society, a new multi-part film installation, filmed in Kent and Manchester, depicting a “society” trapped inside a deteriorating interior.

The exhibition runs alongside two other shows at the gallery: Carl Andre’s Mass and Matter and a selection of technical drawings from the Tate Collection, chosen by Rosa. These drawings include pieces by JMW Turner, from his time as professor of perspective at the Royal Academy, from 1807 to 1837. All three exhibitions open on Friday, February 1.

Turner gave a series of lectures about perspective which were famous for being extremely difficult to follow. So he made the pictures as visual aids to hold up during the lectures to illustrate his complex theories. Struck by their modern appearance, Rosa saw a similarity to drawings’ explorations of points of view, colour, and reflection, all key interests in her own recent work.

The exhibition gives insight into Rosa’s practice and the structures underlying Turner’s paintings. Staff at the Turner Contemporary could not agree more.

“The series of little known, wonderful perspective drawings by JMW Turner perfectly complement Rosa’s new commission,” said Turner Contemporary director Victoria Pomery.

Sarah Perks of Cornerhouse, the Manchester visual art and film centre which has collaborated with Turner Contemporary for the exhibition, said: “Rosa is one of the most exciting contemporary artists pushing boundaries of film, sculpture and installation and especially interested in working with communities in both Manchester and Margate.”

Rosa Barba: Subject to Constant Change, and Turner’s Perspective: Selected by Rosa Barba run at Margate’s Turner Contemporary until Saturday, April 6. Admission free. Call 01843 233000.

Rosa Barba will meet visitors at the Turner Contemporary for a Q&A on Wednesday, February 13, at 6pm. Tickets £6, £5 concessions.

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