art by Padma Yang June 2, 2021
The ongoing exhibition of Richard Mosse’s Displaced is hosted by Fondazione MAST from May 7 to September 19 this year. Fondazione MAST is a cultural and philanthropic institution in Bologna, Italy.
“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.”Urs Stahel, Curator of Displaced, Fondazione MAST.
Curated by Urs Stahel, Displaced is an exhibition that features a wide selection of Mosse’s works. The artist’s works explore the boundaries of documentary photography and contemporary art through the themes of migration, conflict, and climate change. Displaced is still just his first anthological exhibition.
In Displaced, there are 77 large-scale photographs on display. The exhibition also presents two large-scale immersive video installations: The Enclave (2013) and Incoming (2017), the 16-channels video wall Grid (Moria) (2017), and the video Quick (2010).
“Light is visible heat. Light fades. Heat grows cold. People’s attention drifts. Media attention dwindles. Compassion is eventually exhausted. How do we find a way, as photographers and as storytellers, to continue to shed light on the refugee crisis, and to keep the heat on these urgent narratives of human displacement?”Richard Mosse, 2017, Incoming.
Mosse applies new technology to his photographic narratives. He often also uses military-grade cameras designed for battlefield situational awareness and long-range border surveillance to create an immersive, humanist art form.
In his precise control of light and demonstration of heat in his photographs, Mosse creates a new perspective on conflict, change, and displacement. His works also emphasize the concept of visibility. The unique visuals impact still the way we are accustomed to perceiving and interpreting reality.
“When beauty, described by the artist as “the sharpest tool for making people feel something”, is successfully used to recount suffering and tragedy, “an ethical problem arises in the minds of viewers”, who find themselves confused, struck and disorientated. The invisible becomes visible, in all its conflictual nature.”Fondazione MAST
The exhibition extends over three levels of Fondazione MAST: Gallery, Foyer and Level O.
In the early 2000s, Richard Mosse began his photographic career while completing his university studies. His earliest works feature the landscapes in Bosnia, Kosovo, the Gaza Strip, and also at the border between Mexico and the U.S.
These early works document the aftermath of war; they are the emblematic images of destruction, defeat, and the collapse of systems. The vast absence of human figures is still a noticeable characteristic.
Infra is the series that brought the artist fame. Images were taken during the brutal wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Although one of the most affluent areas in the African continent, the country is continuously disrupted by wars and unprecedented humanitarian disasters.
To capture the devastating scenes, Mosse used a Kodak Aerochrome to locate camouflaged subjects and thus reveal the invisible. The lush Congolese rainforest was also thus interpreted as a surreal landscape in striking shades of pink and red.
Heat Map is a collection of images taken along the migratory routes from the Middle East and Africa towards Europe. Through the military-grade thermal imaging camera, human figures can be detected and seen day or night, up to a distance of thirty kilometers.
The images, however, lack details on closer inspection, regardless of their sharp and precise impressions at first glance.
Between 2018 and 2019, Mosse began his journey in the South American rainforest. It was also the first time he shifted his focus from human conflicts to images of nature.
In Ultra, Mosse uses the technique of UV fluorescence to capture the undergrowth, lichen, mosses, orchids, and also even carnivorous plants. The artist also frequently discusses the wealth and biodiversity that we risk losing due to climate change and human intervention in his visuals.
Mosse’s most recent series Tristes Tropiques (2020) presents the dramatic impact of deforestation in Brazil. Mosse shows environmental damage, normally hard for the human eye to capture, through sophisticated satellite photography technology.
This specific technology also allows Mosse to trace environmental crimes – excessive fire burning, intensive livestock farming, illegal mining for gold and minerals – perpetrated on a vast scale.
The Enclave is a sister project of Infra. Mosse shot this six-part video installation with Aerochrome infrared film. The project reveals the contrast between the magnificent nature of the forest and still the violence of soldiers and rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Among the tall grass and lush foliage, military actions, training sessions, and fights between combatants take place.
Incoming is a three-part audiovisual installation made with infrared thermography. In the first part, the scene is shot on an aircraft carrier. It depicts the preparation for the take-off of military jets engaged in operations to control the skies over the Mediterranean.
Then, exhausted, and often injured migrants arrive on overcrowded boats. In the final part, the migrants are relocated in refugee camps. Among tents and sheds, they are stuck waiting to resume their journey to central Europe.
The 2017 video wall Grid (Moria) is made in a similar sense. Mosse traveled back to Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos over a two-year period to document the insides of the refugee camp.
Quick, the 2010 video that completes the video installations at Level 0, is a film shot by Richard Mosse himself. The video recreates the origin of his research and artistic practice through themes such as the circulation of Ebola virus, quarantine and isolation, conflicts and migrations, moving between Malaysia and Eastern Congo.
Originally from Kilkenny, Ireland, Mosse now lives and works in New York. As a photographer, he is still known for his highly-saturated photographs.
In his early works, Mosse focused on the effects of conflict in zones of crises such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
The work that makes him considerably known in the public, however, is his documentation of wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2010 and 2015; the outcomes are the Infra series and the video installation The Enclave.
As an artist and a storyteller, Richard Mosse excels at projecting ecological, multinational, and cultural conflicts in his aesthetic visuals. His images are living narratives and the power of his photographs lie in their ability to extract beauty from even pain, destruction, and death.