The Irish conceptual photographer rose to prominence with his prize-winning series The Enclave, which offered a radical rethinking of how to represent a war as complex and intractable as the ongoing conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Mosse’s latest body of work continues his investment in questions of globalization, immigration, and human displacement — as well as his reflexive use of military technology to question the ways in which photography is constructed.
The Castle comprises a selection of photographs from Mosse’s new series Heat Maps that depict temporary encampments and border crossings along migration routes to Europe from the Middle East and Africa. Each “Heat Map” is constructed from hundreds of frames captured using a super-telephoto lens that is part of a military-grade thermographic camera. Designed for border surveillance, battlefield situational awareness, insurgent detection and search and rescue, this camera can be understood as part of the military-humanitarian complex that constitutes the EU’s response to the mass migration crisis. It can image the human body from over thirty kilometers away. The camera depicts a heat signature of relative temperature difference, showing the incandescence of bodily warmth. Reading heat as both metaphor and index, these images do not attempt to represent the refugee crisis in a seemingly “transparent” or objective way. Instead, they ask how the notion of “the visible” might be expanded and how, by using a scopic technology against itself, the conditions of visibility might be fundamentally restructured.
These densely detailed panoramic thermal images disclose the fences, security gates, loudspeakers, food queues, tents, and temporary shelters of provisional camp architecture, as well as isolated disembodied traces of human and animal motion and other artifacts that disrupt each precarious composition and reveal its temporal construction.
If, as Agamben argues, the figure of the refugee represents the “the paradigm of a new historical consciousness”, how might we find forms adequate to express the spatial, experiential, and temporal aspects of this condition? Art historian and critic T.J. Demos takes up this question in his book The Migrant Image, in which he argues that contemporary artists have created a new form of documentary practice through artistic strategies that “mobilize the image as much as imaging mobility”. Building upon Giorgio Agamben’s concept of “bare life” — that is, a life reduced to the state of its biological existence — the photographs in The Castle depict landscapes of indeterminacy, ambivalence, disorientation, and uncertainty, seen through a prism of hypothermia, climate change, complicity, and mortality.
Accompanying Heat Maps is a selection of smaller framed video stills from Mosse’s new immersive three-screen video installation, Incoming. This visceral 52-minute video artwork was co-commissioned by the Barbican and the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and made in collaboration with composer Ben Frost and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten. It received its premiere at the Barbican Curve gallery in London earlier this year, with an accompanying artist’s book published by MACK, including texts by Mosse and Giorgio Agamben. Incoming will subsequently travel to the NGV, opening 15th December 2017; Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, in May 2018; and SFMOMA, in October 2019.