Real Talk in Marfa with Rosa Barba

March 21, 2014 • Culture

I can now personally confirm Marfa, Texas lives up to the “hype”. Is it the people, the past, the future, the unknown, art speak, or the desolate landscape? Hard to point to one particular thing, but somewhere in the mix I became hooked. Marfa is beautifully interesting, unconventionally quaint and its character has a way of sticking with you.

While in Marfa, I was able to speak to Rosa Barba, who completed a residency at The Chinati Foundation in December followed by a solo exhibition.I met Barba at a coffee shop down a dusty alley off of the main road, San Antonio Street, where she and her daughter welcomed me with a smile. Barba is completely removed from this “hype”; she is a nonconformist, a rare breed in her craft. After speaking to her I began to understand why artists not only find solace in Marfa, but seek to create this dialogue with their art based on relationship between this sense of disconnect and comfort.

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Rosa Barba, artist in residence at the Chinati Foundation

You recently completed a residency at The Chinati Foundation where you had unlimited access to its vast collection of artwork. What are some of your favorite pieces in the collection?

I love the solid cooper piece by Roni Horn, Things That Happen Again: For a Here and a There, but the whole place is a wonderful experience. Every piece in the collection has an incredible freedom.

Things That Happen Again: For a Here and a There, 1986-1991

Things That Happen Again: For a Here and a There, 1986-1991, Roni Horn at The Chinati Foundation

The landscape in Marfa is surreal yet isolating, even as a visitor. As a resident do you find this to be a source of inspiration?

It’s a place where you start to think in a way you can’t otherwise. Everything is minimal there and reduced to the needs next to being overwhelmed by nature.

Your work has been sited as work of the future and you make specific use and even highlight old form and materials, yet it doesn’t feel at all obnoxious, pretentious or replicated, like most common nodes to the past. Who are you visionaries/influences? In what specific ways have they influenced your work?

Literature has influenced personal and is exposed in my various work. I like to situate my work in a timeless, more precise space – space with a lot of layered time, so the exact time can’t be deciphered anymore, acted out by sound, images and text.

You went straight to Marfa from New York where you recently finished a commissioned piece for Performa. How do you feel about live performance versus film/cinema?

My Performa piece brought a film to a live performance by using cinema as a new kind of stage. I created a new 35mm film, which was performed as a live event on the cinema screen in Anthology Film Archives’ screening theatre, whilst being fragmented around the space on 16mm films and filmic sculptures, which repeated an individual formal aspect, such as a sentence or a sound. Whilst almost behaving like characters, or stand-ins for the viewer, these films also interact with one another as though they were a splintered ensemble, fading in and out, and accompanied by an electronic musical accompaniment created by Jan St Werner of Mouse on Mars, and a group of professional voiceover actors who were performing live dialogue from various points in space. Subconscious Society – Live is an attempt to archive the last century, suggesting a paradigm shift, which is represented in the form of a social community, inhabiting a transitional realm, as they make a final attempt at assigning and archiving objects from the past. Here the past exists only as a reference to itself and the details of the present are not fully decipherable yet.

Rosa Barba for Performa, Photographs © Paula Court

Rosa Barba for Performa, Photographs © Paula Court

Music seems to be a common element in your work; Subconscious Society included a live choir. How do you go about curating this element? 

The choir in Subconscious Society live was acting as a narrator, fragmented through many bodies. They were extending the film projection into the cinema space.

What’s next for you? Any forthcoming exhibitions or commissioned work in your this year?

I recently finished production of a film at Artpace in San Antonio. Next, I am traveling to Sydney and Columbia for the Biennial. In March, I am in a group exhibition as Mass MoCA entitled The Dying of the Light: Film as Medium and Metaphor.

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