Subconscious Society Dir. Rosa Barba

[CPH:DOX; 2013]

Styles: experimental, science fiction, installation
Others: Slow Action, Trypps, APT. + CAR + ALL I HAVE AND OWN

Rosa Barba’s Subconscious Society is a short experimental film initially designed as a multi-channel installation. I honestly would have preferred to see it in its original format than as a single-channel film. This is not to say that it fails as a single-channel film — it doesn’t — but forcing this sort of information into a linear timeline seems to limit its effect, even as it increases its potential viewing audience.

Subconscious Society is about sociological and ecological shifts from past to present, and how one interacts with both. This narrative is told partially by an assembly of people, together in an abandoned building, trying to understand and archive outmoded technology, but equal time (and narrative weight) is given to long shots of desiccated, often waterlogged vistas. Disembodied voices talk of bodies of water flooding and receding, revealing a destroyed past and an unwieldy present. Abandoned, rotting sea forts and collapsed trailers imply ugly, terrible events. This narrative could be considered science fiction, but only just, seeming more like a documentary of a (highly likely) near future.

The text here is sparse and communicated almost entirely in anecdotal voiceovers (though one scene with a flashing antique “On Air” sign features an oration worthy of Mike Kelley’s Day is Done, also a multi-channel installation later edited down to single-channel). The images, then, are left to tell most of the story, aided and abetted by yakety sound design courtesy of Jan St. Werner (of Mouse on Mars). There’s a lot of information to take in, and precious little guidance on how to process it: is this a piece about time, the environment, human folly? Neither? Both? Some conclusions seem more apparent than others, but then again, “the eye of the beholder” and all that jazz…

Though it moves with greater forward propulsion and less bone-dry humor, Subconscious Society shares a good deal of aesthetic and conceptual ground with Ben Rivers’s comparably bleak short film Slow Action. Rivers’s seems more of a natural fit as a “conventional” film than Barba’s, but an installation can’t go nearly as many places as a film. Given as much, I’d rather have this imperfect sampling of Barba’s intriguing vision than nothing at all.

Subconscious Society screens November 7th and 13th at CPH:DOX, Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival.

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