Richard Mosse
Still frame from Incoming, 2015–2016.
Three screen video installation by Richard Mosse in
collaboration with Trevor Tweeten and Ben Frost.
Co-commissioned by National Gallery of Victoria,
Melbourne, and Barbican Art Gallery, London.
Courtesy

Richard Mosse Still frame from Incoming, 2015–2016. Three screen video installation by Richard Mosse in collaboration with Trevor Tweeten and Ben Frost. Co-commissioned by National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and Barbican Art Gallery, London. Courtesy

Image by Richard Mosse

Daniel Nelson

What’s in a name? A lot, when it’s Richard Mosse’s military hi-tech film of refugees.

Incoming, the name of the Mosse’s immensely powerful video installation at London’s Barbican Centre, is a military warning of explosive material heading your way. It’s also a play on current British – and other countries’ – fears about immigration.

The work combines both meanings. What’s more, it’s filmed with an advanced weapons system that can see beyond 30 kilometres.

Mosse, say the installation notes, “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.” 

It’s intrusive, in the way that a drone camera intrudes, but it’s not in-their-face intrusive. The ghostly subjects need never know they are on camera.

The eerie black, white and gray results are projected on three giant screens, reinforced by composer Ben Frost’s dramatic soundtrack. Abstract shapes morph into facial close-ups; shots of rippling water give way to children silhouetted as though in a shadow play; an aircraft is armed on a ship’s deck before its dragon burners thrust it forward, worshipped by a semi-circle of ear-blocked marines kneeling in tribute to its frightening power; a boatload of migrants scramble to safety. A man in a snowy reception centre performs the rituals of Islamic prayer: the cold sadness of the sequence is an ice shard in the viewer’s heart. A packed truckload of migrants sway gently as the vehicle ploughs through an unseen landscape. Some individual moments are disturbing, the cumulative impact is mesmerising.

* Richard Mosse says: “I am European. I am complicit. I wanted to foreground this perspective in a way, to try to see refugees and illegal immigrants as our governments see them. I wanted to enter into that logic in order to create an image that reveals it. So I chose to represent these stories, really a journey or series of journeys, using an ambivalent and perhaps sinister new European weapons camera technology.

"The camera is intrusive of individual privacy, yet the imagery that this technology produces is so dehumanised – the person literally glows – that the medium anonymizes the subject in ways that are both insidious and humane. Working against the camera’s intended purpose, my collaborators and I listened carefully to the camera, to understand what it wanted to do — and then tried to reconcile that with these harsh, disparate, unpredictable and frequently tragic narratives of migration and displacement.”

*  Incoming, by Richard Mosse, free, is at the Barbican Centre, Silk Street, EC2, until  23 April. Info: 7638 8891/ https://www.barbican.org.uk/

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