In a darkened room on the third floor of the NGV, six screens hang from the ceiling, showing six different projections. The films show jungles, convoys of vans, heavily armed rebels and displaced villagers. It’s all footage from war-torn regions of the Congo, and it’s shot in luminescent, vivid pink.
This is Irish artist Richard Mosse’s new work, The Enclave. He shot it all on a rare infra-red film stock, developed by Kodak and the US army during World War Two. It highlights natural foliage in bright bubblegum pink. The result is unintentionally psychedelic. “People have used it for a long time,” says Mosse, “particularly in the ‘60s, for album covers and things. It’s very niche, obviously, because it’s so bizarre. So I stockpiled it.”
The footage is raw and confronting, and set to a soundscape by Melbourne-born sound artist, Ben Frost. It’s very difficult to tell when the film starts and finishes, where to look when, or get to grips with any context. “You think you have the perfect vantage point, and then everything changes,” Mosse says. “And then you have to re-negotiate how you see it all.”
There’s no detail of the situation in the Congo, a decades-long tangle of messy, vicious wars. “I wanted to give people a perspective that’s a bit more impressionistic, a bit more emotional,” says Mosse. “There are a lot of reports written on the Congo, but no one reads them. You can read yourself to sleep with the stats and figures. But I wanted to force people to work things out for themselves.”
Despite the incongruity of the colour scheme, your eye adapts after a while, and it’s no longer weird – just disarmingly beautiful. “I wanted to raise the visibility of this overlooked humanitarian disaster, literally by engaging the visible,” says Mosse. “The film sees infra-red, which is an invisible spectrum of light. It alienates people, but also makes it fresh.”
“I started this project as an experiment in aesthetics,” says Mosse. “A very personal and reflexive one. I was really just bringing two incongruous things together to see what would happen, taking war photography and upending it. Seeing how it would break.”
Mosse is hesitant to be an advocate for the victims, but that’s the position he finds himself in. There are other conflicts in the world there are easily explained; goodies-versus-baddies narratives that people can get to grips with. “But there’s no black and white here,” says Mosse. “Just shades of black.”
The Enclave runs at NGV from October 10 to February 28, 2016.