In a multi-storey carpark on Brewer Street, Soho, I came across a great ‘pop-up’ exhibition, showing the work of the Irish photographer Richard Mosse. On show is a series of large format photographs entitled ‘Infra’ – the artist’s portrayal of the savage and unremitting civil war in the Congo.
The photographs were shot on special Infrared film, originally developed by the US military to pick out camouflage from the air. The Kodak Aerochrome film can detect the infrared light reflected from the chlorophyll in foliage, capturing the landscape in vivid reds and hot pinks. In the first space, two temporary L-shaped partitions have been erected between the regular grid of columns. These imposed forms, in combination with sparse lighting create atmospheric spaces within the confines of the drab and windowless car park. Beautifully still panoramic views, depicting a seemingly untouched landscape, drenched in lurid magenta, are hung next to haunting portraits revealing the ravaged human face of this brutal war. In a second space there is another radiant yet harrowing work. For this video installation, “The Enclave” Mosse collaborated with cinematographer Trevor Tweeten. A series of 6 double-sided projection screens have been arranged in a large darkened space. At first I wandered around in the darkness trying to get my bearings. A large group of visitors had gathered on the carpeted floor in a central space, loosely defined by 4 of the screens. From this central point it became possible to see most of the screens in unison, but there was always something just out of view or focus. The projections and sounds that fill the space juxtapose the unexpectedly ordinary aspects of life in the Congo (attending concerts, washing clothes, swimming in a lake) with the horrors of war (gunshot, child soldiers, corpses). Even at its most gruesome, you are never allowed to escape from beauty – the effect is shattering, and not a little sublime. In the supplement that accompanies the exhibition there is an excellent essay by Christy Lange. It begins with a quote from Susan Sontag – nothing written about this work could explain it better;
‘That a gory landscape could be beautiful – in the sublime or awesome or tragic register of the beautiful – is a commonplace about images of war made by artists. The idea does not sit well when applied to images taken by cameras: to find beauty in war photography seems heartless. But the landscape of devastation is still landscape. There is beauty in ruins.” Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.
I have posted some of the photograph’s from the exhibition on our studio Tumblr; http://studiobua.tumblr.com/post/82515301411/richard-mosse-the-enclave-platon-north-kivu
For more information and to view the photographs visit the artist’s website; http://www.richardmosse.com/works/infra/#19
The exhibition is free of charge and open until the 26th of April.