Fondazione MAST presents Displaced, the first anthological exhibition of artist Richard Mosse. Curated by Urs Stahel, the exhibition presents a wide selection of the Irish photographer’s work, exploring the boundaries between documentary photography and contemporary art through the motifs of Migration, Conflict and Climate Change, which in turn highlight the point at which different social, economic and political changes clash.
On show at Fondazione MAST are 77 large format photographs including Mosse’s most recent work, taken from the series Tristes Tropiques (2020), which was shot in the Brazilian Amazon. In addition to these extraordinary images, the exhibition also features two large-scale immersive video installations, The Enclave (2013) and Incoming (2017), a large 16-channel video wall Grid (Moria) (2017) and the video Quick (2010).
Richard Mosse firmly believes in the inherent power of the image, but as a rule he renounces shooting the classic iconic images related to an event. He prefers to account for the circumstances, the context, to put what precedes and what follows at the centre of his reflection. His photographs do not show the conflict, the battle, the crossing of the border, in other words the climax, but the world that follows the birth and the catastrophe. The artist is extremely determined to revive documentary photography, bringing it out of the blind alley in which it has been confined. He wants to subvert conventional media narratives through new technologies – often of military type – precisely in order to unhinge the representative criteria of war photography
explains curator Urs Stahel.
Early works (MAST.Gallery) – Richard Mosse began his photographic career in the early 2000s, while completing his university studies. His earliest work, shot in Bosnia, Kosovo, the Gaza Strip and at the border between Mexico and the United States, is characterised by the almost total absence of human figures. The only images that feature figures in action are those that make up the series Breach (2009), which focuses on the American army’s occupation of Saddam Hussein’s imperial palaces in Iraq. These early works document war zones after events have taken place: they do not show the conflict itself, the battle, the crossing of the border, but the world following the catastrophe. These are emblematic images of destruction, defeat and the collapse of systems.
Infra (MAST.Gallery) and The Enclave (Level 0) – Between 2010 and 2015, first for the photographic series Infra, and then for The Enclave, a complex six-part video installation, Richard Mosse travelled to the eastern region of North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is where coltan is found, a highly toxic mineral from which tantalum (a material widely used in the electronics industry and present in all our smartphones) is extracted.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, rich in mineral resources and one of the most affluent areas in the African continent, is marked by continuous wars and unprecedented humanitarian disasters: after the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, the rebel militias established in the Democratic Republic of Congo never stopped fuelling several new waves of violence.
For his photographs in these devastated areas, Mosse chose a Kodak Aerochrome, a discontinued infrared-sensitive military reconnaissance film developed to locate camouflaged subjects. In the Infra shots, the film records chlorophyll in vegetation and “makes the invisible visible”, resulting in the lush Congolese rainforest being transfigured into a beautiful surreal landscape in shades of pink and red. Infra showcases majestic landscapes, scenes with rebels, civilians and soldiers, as well as huts used for shelter from a perpetual conflict fought with machetes and rifles. With this series and this technology, Richard Mosse undermines the representative criteria of war photography.
With the impressive six-part video installation The Enclave, a sister project of Infra, Richard Mosse reveals the contrast between the magnificent nature of the forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the violence of soldiers and rebels. Military actions, training sessions and fights between combatants take place among the tall grass and lush foliage. After the camera pans over the dead soldiers, the sounds, similarly to the images, are intense and aggressive, almost painful.
The sounds then turn into melodies and give way to a serene, open and calm landscape. The photographer and director, accompanied by cameraman Trevor Tweeten and composer Ben Frost, made The Enclave for the Irish Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, inspired by Joseph Conrad’s famous novel Heart of Darkness.
Heat Maps (MAST.Gallery Foyer) and Incoming (Level 0) – From 2014 to 2018 Mosse focused on mass migration and the tensions caused by the dichotomy between open and closed borders, compassion and rejection, culture of welcome and repatriation.
Mosse travels to the Skaramagas refugee camps in Greece, Tel Sarhoun and Arsal in the north of the Beqa’ valley in Lebanon, the Nizip I and Nizip II camps in the province of Gaziantep in Turkey, the refugee camp in the area of the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin, and many others.
For Heat Maps and the video installation Incoming, Mosse uses a thermal imaging camera to record heat differences in the infrared range: instead of capturing light reflections, it records so-called ‘heat maps’. This is a military technique that has been known since the Korean War and enables us to see human figures up to a distance of thirty kilometres, day or night. At first glance, the images are sharp, precise and rich in contrast. On closer inspection, however, no details can be discerned but only abstractions: people and objects are only recognisable as types, in their movements or outlines, but not in their individuality.
Incoming (2017) is an audiovisual installation divided into three parts that uses the same technology employed for the photographic series Heat Maps, infrared thermography. Richard Mosse, who is the director and producer, and his team – cinematographer Trevor Tweeten and composer and sound designer Ben Frost – worked on three scenarios. In the first part, shot on an aircraft carrier, the film depicts the preparations for the take-off of military jets engaged in operations to control the skies over the Mediterranean. In the second part, the protagonists are migrants arriving on overcrowded boats; they are exhausted and often injured, waiting to be rescued and, in some cases, awaiting post-mortem recognition. Finally, in the third part, the migrants are housed in refugee camps, among tents and sheds, filmed in their new everyday life, stuck waiting to resume their long journey of hope towards central Europe.
To make the 2017 video wall Grid (Moria), Richard Mosse returned to Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on numerous occasions over a two-year period. The footage was shot inside the refugee camp, which is known for its poor conditions, with infrared thermography (heat maps). The work comprises an array of 16 screens displaying the same clip at different intervals.
Ultra and Tristes Tropiques (MAST.Gallery Foyer). Between 2018 and 2019, Mosse began to explore the South American rainforest where, for the first time, he focused his lens on the macro and the micro, shifting his research interest from human conflicts to images of nature.
In Ultra, using the technique of UV fluorescence, Mosse scrutinizes the undergrowth, lichens, mosses, orchids and carnivorous plants alike. By altering the colour spectrum, Mosse transforms these close- ups into a pyrotechnic spectacle of fluorescent and glittering colours. Biodiversity is meticulously described in terms of proliferation and parasitism, voracity and coexistence, to show the wealth that we risk losing due to climate change and human intervention.
Tristes Tropiques is Richard Mosse’s most recent series: it documents the destruction of the ecosystem by mankind with the precision of satellite technology. The photographic technique used is what artist and cartographer Denis Woods calls “counter mapping”, a form of resistance mapping that uses multi-spectral orthographic photographs to show environmental damage that is difficult for the human eye to see.
Richard Mosse took these exposé photographs along the “arc of fire” in the Pantanal, the frontline of mass deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The drones map traces of fire advancing along the roots of the forests, the effects of intensive livestock farming and illegal mining for gold and minerals.
Each map in Tristes Tropiques shows environmental crimes perpetrated on a vast scale, becoming an archive for their photographic documentation.
The 2010 video, Quick, completes the video installations at Level 0: it is a film shot by Richard Mosse himself that reconstructs the genesis of his research and his artistic practice through themes dear to him such as the circulation of the Ebola virus, quarantine and isolation, conflicts and migrations, moving between Malaysia and Eastern Congo.
The catalogue presents all the works in the exhibition together with a critical essay of the curator Urs Stahel and contributions of Michael J. Kavanagh, reporting on Congo and Central Africa since 2004 for the Economist, Bloomberg News, the New York Times, BBC, among many other outlets; Christian Viveros-Fauné, curator-at-large at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum; and Ivo
Quaranta, professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Bologna. Published by Fondazione MAST, the volume is distributed by Corraini and is available in bookstores and online on www.mast.org and www.corraini.com.
RICHARD MOSSE DISPLACED Fondazione MAST 7.5.2021 – 19.9.2021