Shot in 16 mm, Enigmatic Whisper was filmed in the studio of Alexander Calder (1898-1976) in Roxbury, Connecticut. The film draws a portrait of one of the protagonists of twentieth-century art through images of his studio, his tools and work materials—conserved as Calder left them. In alternating shots—from the garden, filtered through the reflection of its windows, or indeed filmed inside the studio—Enigmatic Whisper focusses on one of Calder’s mobiles—kinetic sculptures that are among his most iconic works—still hanging from the ceiling of the studio (Untitled, ca. 1968). Whereas time seems to have been suspended in the studio, the sculpture is seen slowly spinning—besides the absent Calder, a protagonist of the film.
For Barba the suspended sculpture holds a special significance: "When I was invited by curator Victoria Brooks to propose a filmic portrait of one of Calder’s works, I was interested to visit his studio in Roxbury and chose to work with „Untitled“ that remained a constant witness of his practice and never left the studio. For my film I renamed the sculpture Enigmatic Whisper: a communication which remains in the studio and observes and moves - even beyond its actual presence, it stored the memory of the movement in the studio."
The film evokes the mysterious process by which the objects we see in the studio—the wires, pipes and cut sections of sheet metal—was transformed into the airy and poetic assemblages floating in mid-air for which Calder is known. Changing the camera’s point of view from inside to outside and filming the atelier through windows and glass planes, Barba adds visual layers that increase the impression of temporal standstill but also seem to caress the surface of all objects. Some filters are applied, turning the film image red or solarizing it. This increases the slight anachronistic effect, recalling the aesthetic of the elder artist’s heyday, but also adds a mysterious notion of irreality.
An important aspect of the film is the soundtrack, composed by Jan St. Werner, John Colpitts and Andrew Barker. Focusing on the sculpture at the center of the film, the work draws an analogy between its suspended shapes and musical notations. The formal affinity between the sculpture and a percussion instrument precipitated the composition of the soundtrack. There is an intertwining of materiality and sound that functions as a subtle synaesthetic suggestion: percussion dominates with views of the spinning discs of Untitled, while a certain howling, whining sound coincides with details of metal scraps.
"The music was improvised while watching the film which was centered around Untitled,“ the soundtrack’s author explained recently, continuing „A sparse instrumentation (computer by Jan St. Werner, drums by John Colpitts, bass clarinet by Andrew Barker) was chosen to reflect the distinct choice of materials for that object but also material in Calder’s studio. The idea was to reflect the kinetic relationship between the parts, high lighten the silence and space/landscape around them and open up new associations between them."
Rosa Barba engages within the medium of film through a sculptural approach. In her works, Barba creates installations and site-specific interventions to analyze the ways film articulates space, placing the work and the viewer in a new relationship. Questions of composition, physicality of form and plasticity play an important role for the artist as Barba examines the industry of cinema and its staging vis-à-vis gesture, genre, information and documents. Her film works are situated between experimental documentary and fictional narrative. They often focus on natural landscapes and human-made interventions into the environment and explore the relationship of historical records, personal anecdotes, and filmic representation, creating spaces of memory and uncertainty.
Film commissioned and produced by Calder Foundation, New York, in collaboration with Victoria Brooks. © Rosa Barba. Alexander Calder, Untitled, c. 1968 © 2017 Calder Foundation, New York, all rights reserved.