During my trip to London over the weekend, I took the opportunity to visit as many galleries and exhibitions as I could. It’s always refreshing to look at different artists and their work, particularly as a source of inspiration for my own projects. One of the places I visited was The Barbican Centre – a complex of buildings which looked like they were designed by the Vogons, constructed out of hulking slabs of concrete and metal. However, whilst I found it’s brutalist architecture intriguing, the contents within were even more so.
The first exhibition we saw was a documentary film by Richard Mosse, an Irish conceptual documentary photographer. He is best known for his stunning photography in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for his project ‘The Enclave’ (2013), in which he used a now discontinued 16mm colour infrared film called Kodak Aerochrome. The film transformed the Congo’s rich greens into a wash of vibrant pinks, giving his photography a surreal but powerful aesthetic.
‘Incoming’ – his latest work which I saw at the Barbican – was just as effective at challenging the mediums through which war is documented. The Barbican’s website description summarises it best –
‘In collaboration with composer Ben Frost and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten, Mosse has been working with an advanced new thermographic weapons and border imaging technology that can see beyond 30km, registering a heat signature of relative temperature difference. Classed as part of advanced weapons systems under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Mosse has been using this export controlled camera against its intended purpose, to create an artwork about the refugee crisis unfolding in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Libya, in Syria, the Sahara, the Persian Gulf, and other locations.’
Whilst I could write about this all day, I’m certain you wouldn’t want to read the consequent ramblings so I’ll try to be concise(ish). Mosse has managed to capture humanity and its struggle using a very dehumanising medium, the impact of which was profound. Every now and then I see something and think ‘That. That right there is why I want to be a media producer’ – this was one of those moments. The scenes, splayed across 3 screens with different footage on each, depicted various moments of a refugee’s journey. The content ranged from people being loaded onto military boats to life inside the infamous ‘Jungle’ camp outside Calais. In one particularly morbid scene, an autopsy of the desiccated corpse of what I assumed was a refugee was underway. The lack of detail and colour made the whole scene seem removed and clinical, yet incredibly this only served to draw your focus further in – demanding absolute scrutiny as you struggled to make sense of the monochrome images. It left you with a hollow feeling in your gut, like waking up from a disturbing dream. Yet it wasn’t all bleak (as these sorts of things always run the risk of being), minutes later I found myself drawn into the vibrant world of a refugee compound, the images before me once again defying their alienating medium.
Having recently delved into sound design for my Stories and Spaces unit, I was in awe of the aural experience Ben Frost had managed to create for the project. The mixture of raw sound recorded on location with roaring synths, which ebbed and flowed with the pace of the edit, really helped set the tone for the exhibition and gave the room an atmosphere you could literally feel vibrating through the floor. I was once again reminded of the importance and power of well-designed audio.
Okay, I think I’m done. TL;DR – Mosse has managed to create a piece of art which beautifully captures humanity using a technology which inherently denies it. In doing so his film in itself represents the plight of refugees themselves – the struggle to remain human in a time where too often they become faceless numbers and figures on the news. And let’s be honest, if your hour-long installation has people glued to the screen without so much as checking their phone, you’re doing something right.
The exhibition is running until the 23rd of April and is free to attend. If you’re in London this month and get the time, I urge you to go see it.
“What I really hope people will take away, if nothing else, is this sense of uneasy complicity as Westerners” – Richard Mosse