The Chinese have a theory that you pass through boredom into fascination, and I think it's true. I would never choose a subject for what it means to me or what I think about it. You've just got to choose a subject, and what you feel about it, what it means, begins to unfold if you just plain choose a subject and do it enough. (Diane Arbus)1

Artists invariably get caught in the gravitational pull of obsolescence and the marvelous. On the foot of novelty or a whim the artist, above all else, desires new forms, or believes that the recycling of obsolete forms has a chance of disrupting the cultural zeitgeist. Richard Mosse is no different from the contemporary Super-8 and analogue junkies in his adoption of discontinued Aerochrome infrared film that was developed by the US military in the 1940s to detect camouflage. Whether novelty or whim, the Irish artist’s now trademark photographs of Congolese rolling hills and armed militia pollinated in a magenta bloom – the sublime backdrop to one of the worst and ongoing humanitarian crises the world and news media forgot to tell – have (to my mind) never really reached out beyond their high production values to force you to look, really LOOK, never mind feel. As if seen through a Prosecco Pink Champagne bottle, Mosse’s ‘pink period’ exhibits the inflated art market not the deadeye stare of war. Undoubtedly beautiful, they fail to register (on their own) what art critic/philosopher Dave Hickey defines as ‘beauty’; the enigmatic aesthetic moment that changes the way you see and experience the world from that defining moment onward.

Furthermore, if, as has been stated, that Mosse is radically rethinking war photography, why do his images nostalgically convey the nineteenth century philosophical sublime in their wished detachment from reality, epitomised by the war photographer of the time, Roger Fenton, and his absent images that wander on the margins of the Crimea War; wherein the ethical and moral blindness of man’s inhumanity to man, woman and child is glaringly invisible. Yes, we could say that by looking beyond the sepia and candy floss surfaces of both Fenton’s and Mosse’s romanticised circumventions of war proper, that the impossible image may lie just beneath or beyond their banality: Hannah Arendt’s phrase “The Banality of Evil” – provoked by the normalisation of the Nazi extermination of the Jews – qualifies this perspective. Or, alternatively, such a documentarian methodology under the guise of art exemplifies the failure of the embedded artist to uncover or fully integrate with their subject. Lest not mention art’s failure to represent the unrepresentable humanitarian horrors of this and the last century, that white flag has been waved too many times by philosopher and artist alike. However, these initial criticisms need to be reconsidered – perhaps even revoked – in light of experiencing Mosse’s collaborative artwork The Enclave, presented at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin (RHA).

15 FEBRUARY_2014_

Look Again


‘The Enclave’

Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin (RHA), Gallery II

30 January – 12 March, 2014

RICHARD MOSSE, Platon, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2012, Digital C-Print, AP, 183 x 229 cm

Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, Collection of the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon.



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