Richard Mosse’s ‘The Enclave’: A work in still and moving images

By Struan Kennedy

Irish documentary artist Richard Mosse unites technology with the conceptual through a simple but strong metaphorical link: making the invisible visible. The technology in question is 16mm infrared film, developed by the US military in the early 1940s and discontinued by Kodak in 2009. Primarily used for camouflage detection, the film is able to register infrared light which lies outside of the human visual spectrum. This, in turn, is reflected off the chlorophyll in green plants, thus allowing the enemy to be identified in the landscape. Working with cinematographer, Trevor Tweeten, and a minimalist electronic composer, Ben Frost, ‘The Enclave' is the culmination of a project in the Congo and was produced as a six-screen video art installation for the 55th Venice Biennale.

Suspicious Minds, 2012, digital c-print 48 x 60 inches (Photo: Richard Mosse)

Suspicious Minds, 2012, digital c-print 48 x 60 inches (Photo: Richard Mosse)

Since 1998 approximately 5.4 million people have died as a result of the conflict in the Congo, however, mainstream media coverage of this ongoing humanitarian disaster is scant. This idea of the hidden, unseen problem or conflict is revealed by the film's specialized palette─a shocking bubblegum beauty. Beauty, Mosse claims, is ‘the sharpest tool in the box', particularly when it is derived from human suffering. As it creates an ethical dilemma in the viewers' mind, so it begins the process of getting them to truly think and feel in a different, and sometimes, difficult direction.

One important element worth emphasizing relates to gender and performance. As Mosse correctly points out: ‘people are so offended by the color pink─it's just a fecking color!' Yet those offended by the color could include some of the soldiers who may associate the color with a weakened emotional state of femininity or homosexuality. A social satire is perhaps in operation given that these same rough-and-tough soldiers strike their macho poses whilst being cast in a strange new light; their gung-ho action is now pretty in pink.