This year's Irish representative at the Venice Biennale is the Kilkenny born photographer Richard Mosse. Mosse's contribution will consist of a a “highly ambitious eight-channel multimedia installation on the subject of the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo”.
The photographs will be printed on a huge scale- some are over two feet wide- which adds to the visual impact of the rich magenta's and crimson brought out by his use of infrared film. Quite appropriately, the film was originally intended for military surveillance. Mosse is quoted in Popular Photography: “I was interested in [the film’s] original purpose as a military tool,
but I was also drawn to its peculiar color palette. I wanted to use it
as a way of thinking through this conflict and the rules and conventions
of war photography.”
While the pure beauty of the landscapes could be used to accuse Mosse of aestheticizing his troubling subject matter, the detachment from the scenes of war, and the fact that none of the images actually represent any scenes of violence, but are taken rather during peacetime show his awareness of the inability of art to sufficiently address such issues. Mosse is not a documentary war photographer, and it is not his intention to draw our attention to the horrors of the conflict, or to highlight any specific war crimes, but rather to comment on the impotence of the artist in such a position. His use of colour awes and overwhelms us with its beauty, but it also renders it subject unfamiliar, challenging our previous conceptions of what war in a place often associated with darkness and the primitive should look like.
For all its associations with military surveillance, the photographs are still very, well, pink. This has a curious effect particularly on the images of soldiers, that perhaps would not occur if the intensity and reversals of colours came out in greens or blues. They make these hardened, sometimes scarred men look almost camp; particularly in the portrait General Février, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010 (above). The uniform is cast a washed out greyish pink, while the beret becomes a stylish accessory, complimented by the gradiating shades of pink foliage in the background. It could almost be from a fashion feature on military style, were it not for the downcast, subdued eyes of the general, and the very real gun in his hand. It also reminded me of the poartriats of African men in Kehinde Wileys' work, their strong macho stances contrasting with the decorative backgrounds and contemporary fashion. As with Wiley's portraits, Mosse avoids a sense of frivolity; the images are too emotionally loaded, the expression in the subject's eyes too direct for that.
More of Mosse's works and photographs can be viewed here: http://www.richardmosse.com/