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In the Flesh: The Photography of Mosse and Belin

Date and time
Tuesday, November 4, 2014

In the Flesh: The Photography of Mosse and Belin

DHC/ART Education has created a pedagogical tool, Mosse/Belin: Movements, with the goal of encouraging visitors to develop and elaborate on key concepts examined in the exhibitions Surface Tension by Valérie Belin and The Enclave by Richard Mosse. The concepts include truth/deception, the body, the medium, and celluloid film. This week, we present the second essay in the series which explores the idea of the body.

Content: The Body

The still and moving images of Richard Mosse and Valérie Belin focus on the body as a form of “being in the world.” This perspective offers an alternative to the dominant Cartesian epistemology, which divides the body and the mind, as well as the body and the world. With his concepts flesh and chiasm, the philosopher of phenomenology Maurice Merleau-Ponty suggests that the subjective, lived body and the objective world exist not in opposition but are rather passionately intermingled through their shared material existence. An embodiment of this idea can be found in Valérie Belin’s series of photographs Black Eyed Susan, where we see a woman’s body, in flesh and blood, being overcome by the forces of petrification. This body is objectified, and takes on the composure of a store-window mannequin, thus feeling the malaise of being treated only as an object. We can imagine this statue closely examining the bouquet of flowers placed on the table, its dogged and silent material existence, which brings her back to life. She diffuses, her particles are incorporated into the midst of the flowers which open, close, proliferate. Black Eyed Susan becomes Still Life, still alive. Then once again she freezes: porcelain doll, immaculate, her hair done, immobile in her coffin, encircled by morbid flowers. Alphonso Lingis has spoken in this respect of “corporeal intentionality” which not only “comprehends the things in the folds of its own flesh” but also “knows itself in the things.” [1]

The International Rescue Committee estimates that 5.4 million people have died as a result of the war in eastern Congo. One of the peculiarities of this terrible conflict is its invisibility, its intangibility. In this sense, Richard Mosse reports that after every battle in the region it is difficult to see any trace of it: the Congolese landscape is made up of dense and voracious vegetation which swallows history. One of the things that Mosse, in his immersive film installation The Enclave, thus foregrounds and shows us – but also, in particular, makes us feel – is a spectral force, a presence/absence of bodies affected by war, constantly fleeing, taking refuge, being inflicted with violence, dying. The use of Kodak Aerochrome infrared film contributes to conferring a dreamlike quality on the bodies, objects and landscape. This technology reads the infrared light reflected by the chlorophyll in the vegetation and invisible to the naked eye, such that the blazing, vibrant tones of pink and red saturate the photographic images. And this dreamlike space, spread across six large screens, is far from disembodied and immaterial; on the contrary, it is rooted in the flesh of the terrain, with an uncommon physical and visceral intensity. Thus our body, as it wanders through the installation space, is by turns plunged into tall pink grass, nervously following a soldier; swept along and crushed in a crowd holding coffins in their arms; and overrun to the point of nausea by a pink that suddenly explodes and assails us.

Régis Durand argues that the effect of Belin’s images is to bring "the object in question towards us, with a kind of violence and a sense of intrusion, an object that thus appears to enter into our space more than we enter into its space."[2] Observe the different photographs in Belin’s exhibition and give your point of view on this idea.

Questioning naturalism as a photojournalism strategy for depicting war, Mosse declares that "war is dreamlike." [3] As seen in his installation The Enclave, this atmosphere ardently embraces the visitor. Try to analyse the way in which the sound and the image are fashioned to create this intensely somatic experience.

Marie-Hélène Lemaire
DHC/ART Education

[1] Sobchack, V. (2004). Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkeley. Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.
[2] Durand, R. (2007). Valérie Belin, la peau des choses. Göttingen: Steidl.
[3] Lange, C. (2014). At the Edge of the Visible. In Holten, J. (Ed.), A Supplement to The Enclave. Berlin: Broken Dimanche Press.

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