Horrifying, highly moving, and disturbingly beautiful. Irish artist Richard Mosse utilizes an outdated military surveillance film to envision the civil war in eastern DR Congo anew. In this intersection between art and documentary he creates an appalling testimony of a forgotten and complex conflict.
How do you communicate a war that has no center, a war where violence has become a permanent state stoked by fear and rumor, tribal conflict, superstition and corruption, a war that cannot be reduced to a clear-cut story?
Richard Mosse’s video installation The Enclave (2013) approaches the divided warzone of DR Congo by revealing glimpses of the logic of war, an overwhelming, confusing, nightmarish state, where moments of quiet beauty are punctured by violent eruptions and fear is constantly lurking just beneath the surface.
IN SEARCH OF A
NEW VISUAL VOCABULARY
Richard Mosse travelled in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo over four years (2010-14), following and living with paramilitary groups in a warzone riddled with ethnic conflict, massacres and systematic sexual violence. Even though the war has killed millions of people, it has received only scant attention in the international media.
This invisibility is the starting point of Mosse’s work, which twists traditional photographic realism in developing a visual vocabulary to make the forgotten tragedy visible.
Mosse’s work is exhibited in the first two galleries in the West Wing of the museum. The exhibition is conceptualized in two parts, one consisting of a selection of Mosse’s photographs from eastern DR Congo and the other presenting The Enclave, a video installation comprised of six video screens of constantly changing emotionally and sensorially loaded images.
SHOCKING PINK SURVEILLANCE FILM
The key device in Mosse’s work is his use of a special 16mm. military surveillance film (Kodak Aerochrome), which registers the invisible spectrum of infrared light reflected by the chlorophyll in green plants, turning natural foliage a shocking pink.
Kodak Aerochrome was originally designed in the early 1940's to reveal camouflage hidden in the landscape. Superseded by contemporary hyperspectral digital cameras, the Aerochrome film went out of production in 2009. This outdated military technology, specifically employed to make the invisible visible, gets a new role in Mosse’s artistic project, which utilizes its unintentional aesthetic qualities.
Mosse’s hyper-aesthetic color palette breaks with the traditional black-and-white style of war photography, a color scheme that historically has been rendered identical to documentary testimonies. For Mosse, The Enclave is an attempt to disturb the dualism between documentation and imagination and to bring “two counter-worlds into collision: art’s potential to represent narratives so painful that they exist beyond language, and photography’s capacity to document specific tragedies and communicate them to the world.”
ARTIST IN A
Irish artist Richard Mosse (b. 1980) is educated from Goldsmiths, University of London and Yale School of Arts. Mosse is not the stereotypical studio artist, but has a journalistic approach to art making, which brings him to places where a war photographer would usually finds his subjects. In 2010-11 Mosse started travelling in the Demotcratic Republic of Congo.
This travelling first resulted in the photographic series Infra that documents paramilitary groups. In 2012-13, Mosse returned to the Easterne part of the vast country together with the cinematographer Trevor Tweeten and the musician Ben Frost. The purpose this time to collect material for the video installation The Enclave.
The installation premiered at the 2013 Venice Biennale in the Irish Pavilion, and in 2014 Mosse received the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for his work.
THE IMPOSSIBLE IMAGE
In this interview with frieze the Irish artist Richard Mosse talks about his work, the special technology, he uses, and his travel into enclaves of DR Congo, where people live in "a cycle of nightmares". At the heart of his work, Mosse says, lies a search for what is really "the impossible photograph". Courtesy of Frieze Magazine. To watch more frieze video visit video.frieze.com