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Richard Mosse: Incoming - The Curve, Barbican Centre

Exhibition preview

BARBICAN Art Gallery has invited conceptual documentary photographer and Deutsche Börse Photography Prize winner Richard Mosse to create an immersive multi-channel video installation in the Curve.

In collaboration with composer Ben Frost and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten, Mosse has been working with a new, powerful telephoto military camera that can detect the human body from a distance of more than 30km and accurately identify an individual from 6.3km, day or night. He has used this technology to create an artwork about the migration crisis unfolding across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

Narratives of the journeys made by refugees and illegal migrants are captured by this thermal camera which records the biological trace of human life. Projected across three 8 metre-wide screens, the video installation is accompanied by a visceral soundtrack blurring ambient field recordings with synthetic sound design to create an overwhelming, immersive experience.

Richard Mosse: Incoming opens in the Curve on Wednesday, February 15 and will be on display until April 23, 2017.

At a time when, according to the UN, the world is experiencing the largest migration of people since World War II, with more than a million people fleeing to Europe by sea in 2015 – escaping war, climate change, persecution and poverty – Richard Mosse’s film presents a portrait of migrants made with a camera that sees as a missile sees.

The film bears witness to significant chapters in recent world events, mediated through an advanced weapons-grade camera technology that reads only heat, and is blind to skin colour, capturing glowing bodies crossing dangerous waters, drowning at sea, or sleeping in makeshift camps, presenting a story of humans struggling against the elements for survival.

Richard Mosse said: “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.”

Mosse is renowned for work that challenges documentary photography. For Infra (2011) and The Enclave (2013), a six-channel installation commissioned by the Irish Pavilion for the Venice Biennale, Mosse employed a now discontinued 16mm colour infrared film called Kodak Aerochrome that transformed the lush green landscape of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo into vivid hues of pink to create a surreal dreamscape.

Questioning the ways in which war photography is constructed, Mosse’s representation of the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Congo advocates a new way of looking.

In Breach (2009), Mosse embedded with the US Army in Iraq to document American military occupation of Saddam Hussein’s palace architecture. He has also worked extensively along the US-Mexico border, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, the Balkans, Haiti, Pakistan, Iran, and other locations.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said: “We are delighted to have co-commissioned Richard Mosse to make this utterly compelling new film work for The Curve. Blurring the boundaries of journalism and conceptual documentary photography, this is a haunting and humane portrait of the millions who are fleeing from wars and persecution.

“At least two years in the making, Mosse illuminates a tragedy that has unfolded without us seeming to have the means to prevent it, a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions that remains largely hidden and continues to ask questions of us all.”

Image: Richard Mosse, Safe from Harm, South Kivu, eastern D.R. Congo, 2012 ©Richard Mosse. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and carlier|gebauer, Berlin.

Admission: Free.

The Curve opening times: Saturday – Wednesday, 11am – 8pm; Thursday and Friday, 11am – 9pm; Bank Holidays, 12pm – 8pm.

The Curve, Barbican, London

Tel: 0845 120 7550