Kunsthalle Bremen opens Richard Mosse exhibition

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Kunsthalle Bremen opens Richard Mosse exhibition
Richard Mosse, Tower of Song, 2012, aus der Serie Infra, Privatsammlung. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and carlier | gebauer, Berlin/Madrid.

BREMEN.- For the past decade, the Irish photographer Richard Mosse (b. 1980) has been documenting global political and economic crises, including the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, European refugee and migration policy and the destruction of the tropical rainforest. In his large-scale photographs, Mosse uses imaging technology originally designed for military and scientific use to make objects visible that cannot ordinarily be perceived by the human eye. With over seventy photographs and a new video installation, this show at the Kunsthalle Bremen presents a broad overview of Mosse’s work for the first time in Germany.

The heightened aesthetic of Richard Mosse’s photographs and videos simultaneously grapple with political and ethical issues. He utilizes imaging technology that was originally developed for military and scientific purposes, employing it, on the one hand, to investigate and reveal the history and effects of global crises but also to question the potential and limitations of photography itself. Mosse thereby operates in the interface between politically motivated documentary photography and contemporary conceptual art. This methodology is based on his conviction that conventional documentary photography simply cannot depict the complicated and often obscure contexts behind global crises and wars.

Developed in close collaboration with the artist, this exhibition is the first comprehensive show of Mosse’s work in Germany and one of the largest to date internationally. Over seventy photographs have been selected from his four major series to date, including “Infra” (2010–2014) from the Congo, “Heat Maps” (2016–2018) with images of European refugee camps, his current projects “Ultra” (2019/20) and “Tristes Tropiques” (since 2020), in which he explores the systematic destruction of the Amazon rainforest. A new, large-scale video installation from his “Tristes Tropiques” series complements the selection of photographs.

Richard Mosse lives in New York. In 2013, he represented his native Ireland at the Venice Biennale. He was awarded the Deutsche B÷rse Photography Prize in 2014 and the Prix Pictet in 2017. His work has been presented at numerous international exhibitions, including MAST, Bologna (2021); the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2019); the Barbican Art Gallery, London (2017); the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; HumlebŠk (2015); and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2014).

“Infra” (2010–2014)
For his “Infra” series, Mosse travelled through North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010 and captured landscapes, abandoned homes, refugee camps and powerful portraits. For decades, North Kivu has been the site of ongoing violence between various rebel groups and the Congolese army. Military ambushes, massacres of the civilian population and systemic sexual violence have made their mark on entire generations. The confusing conflict between the various rebel groups and the government is ultimately the result of colonial exploitation by Belgian King Leopold II (1888-1908), Belgium (1910-1960), and thirty-plus years of rule by the dictator Mobutu (1965-1997). Today, the conflict remains closely intertwined with foreign countries’ interests in the Congo’s rich natural resources.

For his photographic research, Mosse used Kodak Aerochrome, a type of infrared colour film discontinued in 2009 which was originally developed during World War II for military aerial reconnaissance. It records a spectrum of infrared light that is invisible to the human eye and renders green landscapes in intense shades of lavender, purple and pink. The military employed this technology to detect people and objects camouflaged in natural settings. In his work, Mosse uses the infrared film to uncover and analyse the complex web of entanglements behind these unresolved conflicts.

“Heat Maps” (2016–2018)
Since 2016, Mosse has explored in depth the impact of refugees in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, photographing numerous provisional camps that were established along the routes taken by many of them on their way to Europe. For his large-scale series “Heat Maps”, Mosse utilized a camera developed for military purposes that can measure thermal radiation from a distance of thirty kilometres. This highly complex camera is registered as a weapon and is generally used by governments to surveil and defend their borders. Mosse’s black and white photographs are constructed from a multitude of smaller high-resolution frames taken from a great distance and reveal life in the refugee camps down to the smallest detail.

The images of these frequently inaccessible and secured sites look like historic cityscapes and are reminiscent of camps where asylum seekers are detained. The thermal imaging camera captures the people only through traces of their body heat. Faces are rendered as schematic shapes. The camera’s dehumanizing viewpoint unsettlingly conveys the reservations with which the world regards the situation of these refugees. By using a thermal imaging camera – a military instrument used to secure borders – Mosse draws attention to the refugee policy of the respective governments during a period in which migration has long since become a “conflict” countered by military means.

“Ultra” (2019/20)
Since 2019, Mosse has focused on exploring the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. His series “Ultra” captures the precious and irreplaceable beauty of the rainforest ecosystem in Peru and Ecuador through minutely detailed images of plants and insects. The rainforest is a place for hunters and prey; the natural world here is in a perpetual cycle of kill-or-be-killed. “Ultra” examines how plants and insects have evolved over millions of years for survival, frequently developing forms of camouflage. To make this series, Mosse used a scientific photography technique to capture ultraviolet fluorescence. Through the fluorescence of UV light in the visible spectrum, plants and animals take on an unfamiliar, almost alien aspect. Without technological support, the irritating colour portrayed cannot be perceived by the human eye. The artworks have been composited from numerous separate images (typically fifty or more) to create large-scale, hyper-detailed, aesthetic landscapes. In the face of the ever-greater threat and irrecoverable destruction of the rainforest, Mosse points out the limitations of human skill and knowledge.

“Tristes Tropiques” (since 2020)
In his most recent project “Tristes Tropiques” (since 2020), Mosse continues to focus on the Amazon rainforest by drawing our attention to environmental crimes and the systematic destruction of nature through large-scale clearing and deforestation, stock farming, palm oil plantations, illegal gold mines and other man-made infrastructure. For these large-scale works, Mosse processes hundreds of thousands of multispectral images captured above the affected area by special cameras mounted on drones. Following this, the individual frames are consolidated in a complicated process and interpreted using geographic information system software which was developed to record and analyse spatial data.

The technology Mosse borrowed is commonly used by scientists to detect deforestation, the concentrated release of CO2, toxic pollution and other ecological damage. However, the same technology is also employed in agribusiness and geology to exploit the land more profitably and selectively. These images oscillate between scientific maps and garishly coloured photographs. From a distance, the colourful works look like colour field paintings, but from a closer vantage point they reveal the smallest details. Every image in the “Tristes Tropiques” series contains a multitude of data that tracks the continuing spread of radical deforestation, the dominance of agribusiness, illegal mining and other environmental crimes.

Along with the “Tristes Tropiques” photographs, Mosse has added “Untitled (Rond˘nia)” (2021), a compelling new video installation that shows aerial film footage from the rainforest in the Brazilian state of Rond˘nia. The powerful images of this recently incinerated jungle area are accompanied by audio recorded on site. This video continues an important collaboration between Mosse and the American cameraman Trevor Tweeten (b. 1983) and the Australian-Islandic composer Ben Frost (b. 1980), with whom he developed earlier, highly regarded video installations.
The title of this project, “Tristes Tropiques”, alludes to a travelogue of the same name published in 1955 by the French anthropologist Claude LÚvi-Strauss, which describes his travels through the Amazon.

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