Rosa Barba’s exhibition “Hidden Conference”, which has been in Arter since September, sheds light on many questions with its dark breath on the works with the archive application aside from its extraordinary nature. “Hidden Conference” is a three-part film series shot by visual artist and filmmaker Rosa Barba in various museum storage facilities. The first film of the series was shot in the warehouse of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and published under the title, “About the Discontinuous History of Things We See and Don’t See (2010)”. The artist brought her camera to the archives of the Capitoline Museums in Rome and returned with “A Fractured Play (2012)”. The series ended with the third film “About the Shelf and Mantel (2015)”, shot at Tate Modern’s warehouses in London. The fact that the works that are previously placed carefully on the gallery, are placed entirely on their physical shapes and sizes when they are stored, is far from being a natural process.  The relationship between the works secreted away from the light and their invisible ties with other works just beside them came to light with Barba’s visual questioning.

When you access the archives of three different museums within the scope of this exhibition, what kind of connection did you have with the artwork you saw when you spent time there?

When I installed over the summer the works at Arter, the other exhibitions in the building were also in the making but many of the pieces were already layed out or about to be positioned. There was a set in motion of the pieces all over the building and it vibrated very well with the ideas in “The Hidden Conference”. I liked especially how in the floor above with the works by Ayşe Erkmen set the architecture itself in motion and out of balance. It’s a constant questioning of the organization of the artworks within their display apparatuses.

Change of materiality is a natural process. When an artwork is moved to an archive, what kind of a change does its artistic mission goes through?

I don’t think that ideas of an artwork change when carried to an archive. Its just another conversation that takes place – one that formulates itself. This is what I wanted to investigate. The locations of the storages played a very important role as well. In “A Fractured Play” for example, the storage is situated in a room with a 360 degree view over Rome City. The outside stimulates a constant exploration where objects meet and become ideas in their specific environment, which also has no defined borders. The exhibition space continues in and merges with the work itself.

Your work often faces architecture, geography, sculpture, performance and film. Is there a natural harmony between them, and if so, how did you put them together in the exhibition?

In my work, I constantly inquire how we occupy space, examining it with diverse approaches using time and language. I see time more as an accumulation, more as an archive than as a linear sequence. I often abstract language so that it becomes difficult to read or understand; it eludes normal semiotic functions. With this method I scrutinize time and its volumes, and reassess the authority of language and the reliability of its own sources. Spatial investigations unfold by means of deconstructions of the film apparatus or the filmic setting and its surrounding elements (time, space, light and sound).

The ideas are starting points rather than answers that need to act on a stable platform. It’s a kind of simultaneous laying together, like a song that consists of many different musical layers and meanings. I try to construct a work so that you can always examine its parts, technically as well as semantically, sensually and historically. Together the parts form a song, a story, or an image, which in turn form an idea. So the parts act as ingredients and starting points for examination and associations that lead far from the actual piece. The viewer uses time as a personal chaotic discipline or technique, to connect the works to each other.

Have you ever had a storage room in your life? What was the transformation of the items that lost their importance in your life?

Beside some of my artworks being stored, I have a few personal things stored but they do not lose their importance.  In “The Hidden Conference” I am rather interested on what happens among artworks they are left to their self-organizing principle. Of course decisions have been made over the years about what to collect and what to store in museums but having this accumulated ideas over decades together in one room-what  I am interested to explore what do they produce?

What do you think about the meditative effect of the symbolic values of both classical and modern cultural heritage in films?

With meditative effect I would mean creating a different kind of time and space to think or see certain things. Each film conveys the paradoxical fact that as collections continue to grow, the percentage of what is put into active circulation is declining. Most objects are labeled, catalogued in a proprietary tracking system and left in deep storage, undisturbed, protected from the harsh, denigration of time for posterity.

Within the typology of storage, size and shape are supreme rulers, works are fitted, joined and matched all in an effort to maximize spatial efficiencies.  In fact, an overarching connection in the films is the link between the subjection of time and the compression of space.  In this way, the three films form the third component of what can be thought of the trilogy of my thinking: deep storage, deep time and deep space.

Recently, reissue movement has started to play an important role in the music industry. Many reissue record labels are being established. Mining is a kind of musical heritage. Do you think that this will take place in the visual arts in the future?

It’s hard to compare the music industry with the visual arts circulation in this way. The museum system per se is already a system that enables revisiting works from other periods of time, which I don’t think that the music industry has an equivalent besides some specific research places like to name one Ircam in Paris that have fantastic archives over different periods of time as well.  So, I think one can think of these words ‘reissue’ or ‘mining’ in music, which are already very charged words, only if you consider it as relating to the common act of thinking of something again in a new context. Of evoking a previous into a current. And that’s something that arts in general couldn’t even exist without. So, I don’t think it’s a matter of future.

How does community memory play a role in creating films under “The Hidden Conference”? Do you see yourself as an actor against the characters in these films?

Though I am here literally the aggregator, I do not usurp the authorial functions of the museum in an attempt at institutional critique, nor is the simple invocation of the term archive in the project’s title meant to signal the rising tide of “artistic research” as a practice unto itself. I rather like the intentionally ambiguous position that reflects current modes of collective authorship (from museum wall labels to the web) that we use to write history, and in doing so posits an ontology of the present that conceives of the contemporary not as a break but a textured interplay with the past.

Each artist speaks with their own voice in their own language, temperament and volume. I am an observer in this not an actor.

What is the intrinsic quality of art that is unseen?

I became fascinated by the idea of the archive itself, of how the artworks continue to exist, contributing to our visual language despite being concealed from public view. I began to explore the invisible connections between the different artworks in storage; the web of links that create a collective idea of a consistent space which is a permanent carrier of cultural value. I am especially interested in the storage shelves and in how they create an elaborate memory system. I wanted to capture the different compositions on film – how the works are arranged and how another layer of existence is created by these pieces being placed next to each other. The whole idea of art in storage, of the works secreted away from the light, is fascinating. What is the intrinsic quality of art that is unseen?  Do our memories and associations with an artwork define our perceptions of it more than the sight of the actual object? It strikes me that an artwork stored in a major archive is like something finally brought to rest, as if in a deep sleep after the exhausting process of a change of ownership; the communication, negotiation and complex transactions of the art market. And then there’s the question of how the new acquisition introduces something new to the collective memory of the whole archive.  When we search our own memory for a word or a name, it’s strange how some seemingly arcane or random association might help us recall it

Do you believe in signs?

Of course.

Rosa Barba
The Hidden Conference: A Fractured Play, 2012
35mm film, 5′
Film still
Arter Collection