• Review

  • December 22nd, 2014 12.22.2014

    Richard Mosse: The Enclave


    Documentary photography is a practice that often finds itself either belonging to the realm of journalism or that of contemporary art, ambiguously wavering between the two. Upon entering the DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art, which is currently hosting Richard Mosse’s The Enclave, it is apparent that the work exhibited transcends expectations associated with image making in its entirety.

    Richard Mosse, The Enclave, 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.

    The Enclave is the result of Mosse’s commitment to documenting the state of civil unrest and perpetual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, involving dozens of rebel groups and a severely corrupt government. Baffled at the consistent lack of media coverage of the ongoing conflict, Mosse was compelled to make a record that would shed light on this unseen place. Everything about this work seems to go against expectations and conventions, highlighting the complexities of the conflict, while simultaneously being transparently experimental.

    Out of the multitude of things that make Mosse’s work unique, the most immediate and striking is his use of the now-discontinued Kodak Aerochrome Infrared film. The film was developed in collaboration with the US military in the 1960s for the purpose of increasing the accuracy of aerial surveillance. Vegetation is rendered in tones of vivid pink and crimson, leaving lifeless things easily detectable—camouflage becomes a traitor, its purpose defied.

    The first portion of the exhibition features three imposing photographs from the series Infra, which was produced during the first stages of the project and shot in large format. These images confront the viewer with an unsettling juxtaposition, capturing both the seductive beauty of the reddened landscape, and the people whose lives are ravaged and dominated by conflict, creating a disturbingly sublime portrait. The stature and stillness of the images is intimidating, and each is eerily enigmatic in their silence.

    Richard Mosse, Love Is The Drug, 2012, digital c-print, 279.4 x 534.5 cm (110” x 211”).
    Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

    A low rumble emanates from beyond the doorway leading to the second part of the exhibition, hinting at an elaboration to come. The impact of The Enclave is immediate. The six-screen installation is intermittently animated with the striking footage that Mosse gathered in the company of cinematographer Trevor Tweeten during their multiple visits to the Congo. It too was shot using the Aerochrome Infrared film, this time in 16mm format. Composer and music producer Ben Frost was the third installment to this team, contributing a profoundly immersive six channel soundscape composed exclusively of field recordings.

    The experience created by the 40 minute long piece is enthralling, inviting the viewer to weave in and out of the nearly overwhelming arrangement of suspended screens. In contrast to the photographs, the moving images have a dynamic agency and each segment of the film speaks volumes. This dynamism carries us through this non-narrative, tension shifting. At one point the sound is left out completely—the silence is resonant while a scene of violence unfolds before us.

    Richard Mosse, Vintage Violence, 2011, digital c-print, 182.88 cm x 228.6 cm (72”x90”).
    Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

    The use of the infrared film is unorthodox in a world where photographs of conflict and war zones are predominantly created digitally and are frequently presented in black and white, being stripped of any color. A criticism of Mosse’s work is that the images are too beautiful, that the color somehow obfuscates the truth. While at first the infrared treatment transports these images into a surreal realm, the deviation from the habitual depiction of war creates a penetrating portrait that allows the truth behind the images to sink in, hauntingly. Tweeten shot some of the film with a Steadicam, another unusual gesture in documentary work that again offers an unearthly vision of this place. As the camera slinks steadily through the landscape, one begins to feel like a ghost roaming through roads and villages. The motion is dreamy, almost mechanical and drone-like, until a person engages the camera. For instance, we are wrenched into the reality of a child when he runs through a camp of displaced people, seemingly intrigued and afraid of the camera, and of what it represents.

    The Enclave at the DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art in Montreal, is on view through February 8, 2015.