Rosa Barba

The Hidden Conference


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Not on display

Rosa Barba born 1972
Film, 35 mm, 3 projections, colour and sound (optical)
Duration: 32min, 40sec
Purchased with funds provided by Tate International Council 2017


The Hidden Conference is a three-part film projection shot on 35 mm film over the period 2010 to 2015 and shown on projectors modified by the artist. It comprises three separate filmic investigations into museum storage facilities, interrogating the status of artworks when they are not on display and are therefore rendered in some way invisible. The first film, entitled About the Continuous History of Things We See and Don’t See, was shot in 2010 in the stores of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin; the second, A Fractured Play, was shot in the stores of the Musei Capitolini in Rome in 2011; and the third and final instalment, titled About the Shelf and Mantel, was filmed in Tate’s off-site stores in London in 2015. The two earlier films have both been presented as single screen installations in various venues, including MAXXI, Rome, in 2010 and the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, in 2012. The artist has stipulated that any of the three can be shown either individually or as a group.

In The Hidden Conference the stored artworks from each museum’s collections are filmed using a continually moving handheld camera. At other times the works are themselves mysteriously moved on invisible wheels, becoming quasi-characters in a fragmented filmic narrative. When shown altogether, the sound recordings of the three films (which feature dialogues that recall excerpts from famous films, noises, environmental sounds, rhythmic sequences and periods of silence) constantly overlap, producing a never-ending and – given the different length of the three films – always changing soundtrack. As is frequently the case in Barba’s films and installations, this ‘soundscape’ plays a central role in pushing the apparently scientific and documentary approach of the films towards fiction. The stored artworks’ condition of apparently silent and hidden coexistence is enlivened by their movements, murmurs and conversations, and the three screens create a unique environment, in which sculptures and paintings from different eras and places are connected through an evolving choreography into which the spectator is visually and physically drawn.

Writing about the structural performativity of the apparatus of cinema and the relations between its materiality and the immateriality of projected images, Barba has stated:

On film every single image has its own life at the moment of projection, and can never be deleted or recorded over. An archive is constructed image by image. There is a shift: the shift of materiality. Dust from every place that the film is played adds a further narrative layer to the existing material. In this sense a film is a performer, playing a limited role, where the shoot requires precise decisions made to capture the choreography; a deep inhalation of light sources imprinted on to the material and manifested through different acts of alchemic development procedures, which in turn lead to … the filmic performance … By manipulating the aspects of the projector’s function, I try to introduce the relationship between the projected image and the mechanics of projection, setting up a series of stages, each of which requires the suspension of disbelief, charged with electricity.
(Barba in Nicholas Cullinan (ed.), Film: Tacita Dean, London 2011, p.51.)

The Hidden Conference is both a philosophical journey into the history of art and a meditation on the symbolic values of classic and modern cultural heritage. It presents the viewer with the opportunity to trespass beyond the museum’s walls in space and time, and there encounter a performed archive – the museum stores – inhabited by a parallel and secret life. The Hidden Conference can also be considered a monument to an invisible history, in which the protagonists are the stored artworks rendered visible onscreen, as well as to the medium of film and its near-obsolete and fragile yet sculpturally impressive nature.

An important work in Barba’s career to date that spans a key period of her output, this installation is typical of Barba’s work in its exploration of the conditions of filmmaking, whether it be the physical characteristics of film itself (celluloid) or its apparatus (light, projector and sound). Interested in the possibilities of unfolding and stretching time, Barba takes a sculptural approach to film, often dismantling its elements to create new mobile components for her installations. Objects, interiors and landscapes are filmed with a particular attention to the possibilities offered by fictitious narratives, evoked in the work through the use of sound (both music and voice over) or texts.

Further reading
Ian White, ‘An Idea in Three Dimensions’, in Chiara Parisi and Andrea Viliani (eds.), Rosa Barba: White is an Image, Ostfildern 2011, pp.7–39.
Lynne Cook, ‘Suspended Stories: Rosa Barba’s Strategic Narrativity’, in Chiara Parisi and Andrea Viliani (eds.), Rosa Barba: White is an Image, Ostfildern 2011, pp.165–213.
Gil Leung and Rosa Barba, ‘White is an Image’, in Sergio Edelsztein and Hilke Wagner (eds.), Rosa Barba: In Conversation with, Milan 2012, pp.59–65.

Andrea Lissoni
September 2015

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