The sun and moon appear the same size to us because, in a striking coincidence, the sun is both 400 times larger than the moon and 400 times farther from Earth. I am awed each time I recall this fact; it suggests the universe makes sense in a poetic way. I had the same feeling while viewing Rosa Barba’s Stellar Populations (2017/2022), a mesmerizing kinetic sculpture. In the piece, one clear loop of film is pulled taut by two mechanisms that cause it to bump repeatedly into another, red strip, which is fed loosely through three revolving nobs. All this occurs within a light box, which also contains stainless steel spheres—perhaps pinballs—that roll around the smooth surface, corralled by the film. The whole thing is surprisingly elegant. It’s as if Barba is showing viewers the magic of how things work.
The Italian-German artist tinkers with the workings of things as straightforward as mechanical devices, as sublime as celestial bodies, and as elusive as poetry or space or time. “Radiant Exposures,” her show at Esther Schipper in Berlin, contains many round, spherical, and revolving objects, whether in the form of kinetic sculptures, expanded cinema, or, most often, some combination of the two. The moving sculptures all use light and film as materials, and are mesmerizing in the way of a looped animation. When she shows moving images, her analog projectors have a commanding presence in the gallery—one of them is larger than its projection screen, and its sound permeates the entire show. Elsewhere, film—whether celluloid bearing handwritten text or in-camera recordings depicting solariums or solid colors—is projected through colored glass, woven into mobiles, or pulled by mechanisms across light boxes. Rather than having all the works “play” at once, Barba chose to stagger them; some run on timers and take turns lighting up, helping choregraph a visitor’s movement through the space.