Apr 9, 2014

The Enclave by Richard Mosse
Exhibited at FOAM (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam), Netherlands

by Pamela Vizner

During our trip to Amsterdam for the Orphans 9 film symposium, some students decided to go on a visit to the FOAM Museum (Photography Museum Amsterdam), as a way to experience moving image curatorship in Europe. Please don’t be confused with the name; FOAM is much more than photographs, video and other types of installations are also an important part of their exhibits, as well as supporting new international artists.

Our main destination was the video installation The Enclave by Richard Mosse, of which we heard very good comments before our visit. This work was the Irish representative for the Biennale di Venezia and it is a 6-screen installation that represents the war conflicts in Congo. The films were shot on 16mm infrared stock – normally used for camouflage detection during WWII – which detects infrared light, invisible to the human eye. This technique gives the films beautiful and intense red and magenta colors in high contrast with blue and blacks. The artist explains that, for him it was a metaphor: to show the invisible, in the same way the conflicts in Congo are invisible, hidden or ignored to the eyes of the international community.

The production started in 2012, with the help of Trevor Tweeten and Ben Frost. The three of them went to the most remote and hidden places in the jungle, infiltrating rebel forces in the heart of the conflict. The Congolese conflicts have extended for several years and have caused death and displacement of millions (just by 2008 5.4 million people died for causes related to the war).

The installation was placed on the second floor of the museum. As you enter the second floor, the first information about the art piece is a description on the wall of the staircase: big enough to catch the visitor’s attention. Continuing though the hall, the visitor could find the exhibition space: a dark and carpeted room with six screens, two of them hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room. The screens are situated low enough, so people can actually walk around them. This created two different reactions: people would stand at the entrance, afraid of blocking the projections; or they would come in and sit on the floor in the middle of the room (clearly the best place to experience the work). While we were there, most people sat, which in my mind created a strange but comfortable feeling of unity and community.

The images, bright and surreal, also contrast with a very organic sound track: sounds of nature, wind, water and people mixed at times with a very subtle electronic music. The images are strong, but balanced, revealing the beauty of the jungle and the tragedy of war. The feeling of distress that they cause surprisingly doesn’t come from the violent images, but rather from the peace and serenity of the fields in the wind and the sound of the river.


The installation is completed with an exhibition of photographs taken from the films, again bright red landscapes, and an interview with the artist, which can also be seen here: http://www.foam.org/visit-foam/calendar/2014-exhibitions/richard-mosse-the-enclave

Technically speaking, the exhibition is very well presented. The low-height screens and the small area in which it is situated create an intimate space that helps appreciating the beauty of the landscapes as well as exposing the cruelties and inequities of war. The photograph exhibition – although it shows very beautiful images - seems to lose the strength and context of the video installation. The interview, on the other hand, is a great source of context, which provides an insight to the artist intention, much needed when dealing with complicated subjects. In a post-visit conversation with my classmates, we all seemed to miss some important information about how the production was made possible, mainly regarding the way how the team was able to reach these areas and armed groups and how they create (or not) relationships with these people, something that seems quite evident after experiencing the work. Other than that, this installation is a well-exhibited and touching piece of artwork.

Installation at the Biennale di Venezia, http://www.artandsciencejournal.com/post/55350818604/making-the-invisible-visible-there-is-no-shortage

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