At the back of the NCP car park in Soho there’s an unexpected art experience waiting for you. There’s no room for cars here, only contemplation as you take in the beguiling photographs and immersive film installation by Irish artist Richard Mosse. Large format photographs of blisteringly beautiful vistas greet you at the bottom of the ramp. Unimaginable shades of reds draw you into picturesque landscapes of rolling hills and idyllic lakes. Then you’re struck by what these enthralling photographs are actually detailing as the images turn to more daunting scenarios.
Mosse’s strategy is to beautify to the point of edulcorated bliss, deadly fields. Through an exaggeration of purples and red, he achieves a dense ruby-hued landscape. Althought the viewer’s eyes want to travel when browsing these images, they very soon find certain obstacles that appear to be not only visual but also moral. A human skull is nestled amid the vegetation. A man perches on top of a tree stump surrounded by vibrant magenta reeds, holding a machine gun, a look of tired absence glazed across his eyes. This is the wartorn eastern Congo; ravaged by constant conflict between militia, rebel forces, the Congolese national army and Rwandan refugees.
Between 2010 and 2011 Mosse made several trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly the region of Kivu, capturing these hidden pockets of turmoil with discontinued infrared surveillance film originally used by the military to detect camouflaged soliders from the air. This is what gives the images their troubling, rose-tinted allure.
There is something disturbingly commercial in these images that are a conflation of sorts of Andreas Gurksy’s over-photoshopped landscapes and Pieter Hugo naturalised violent Nigerian portraits. It is from this point of view that the installation of Mosse’s eight double sided screen projection musicalised with a gut-wrenching soundtrack of radio static, comes across as inappropriate. The purple colouring should be enough but Mosses seem to want to go for the full blown effect of the oxymoronic collapse of beauty and horror. The result is hardly sublime.
Originally commissioned for the Irish Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, this extraordinary body of work is the reason the 34-year-old has been nominated for this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, currently on show at The Photographers’ Gallery. Just a thought.
AT THE Brewer Street Car Park, 17 Peter St, W1F 0AL