Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

The triumph of modern warfare: Richard Mosse meets Ben Frost, again.

Oct 14, 2015 - Salvatore Vitale

[embed width="1000" height="563"][/embed] Some days ago I found out that Richard Mosse and Ben Frost have been involved in a brand new project by Channel 4. Maybe it's worth to provide a kind of background before going on with the description of what they did. As many of you already know, Richard Mosse is an Irish documentary photographer who became very famous thanks to his work during the war in Eastern Congo documented using discontinued military infrared film in order to give a new perspective on the conflict. With this body of work he also won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2014. What about Ben Frost? He is Australian-born, Iceland-based composer and producer who compose mainly minimalist and experimental music. For sure he is one of the artists who influenced the most the experimental music scene in the last years. But he is, first of all, an artist and he knows very well photography. I've been talking with him about it last summer when I met him in Switzerland, starting from the collaboration he made with Yann Mingard for his documentary project called Deposit (you can download it here) and going on with his work with Richard Mosse for The Enclave, the film installation born as the evolution of his project in Congo. Yes, they are not new to collaborate mixing visual art and experimental music. In the past I've been very stunned by the work they made together in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the escalation of images and music mixed together gives back this surrealistic and dynamic sense of the conflict. They also collaborated on A U R O R A, the last record by Ben Frost. When I firstly approached to the news about this new collaboration I've been expecting something on the line of the previous ones. But I was wrong. This time, Channel 4, asked them and Trevor Tweeten (already involved in the realization of The Enclave) to film a documentary on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a U.S. aircraft carrier that operates in the Persian Gulf and fights Islamic State militants. The result is "Bombing Isis". It is very interesting to read the artists' statement on this project where they speak about the activities on board focusing on the vision of an artist who finds himself in a dramatic context, but where the core is often about the power of those gestures and physical forces that take place in the everyday activities of people and machines involved in the operation of this "sea monster". They state: "Activities aboard an active, forward deployed aircraft carrier are, of course, absolutely newsworthy. But, as artists, we were also very impressed by the sublime physical forces that were active on deck: the tremendous deafening metal machine noise, the very dangerous heat (up to 65 Celsius), the somatic, body-shaking vibration, the violent crashing and furious catapulting of multi-million dollar aircraft loaded with deadly ordinance. Yet the crew working in this ferocious environment remain perfectly calm, signalling to each other with coded gestures like actors in an absurdist theatre play." It is possible to find this feeling watching the 6'28" documentary, where images of the aircraft mixed to still images and interviews to the crew's members are building up a sense of surreal calm, where everything seems to stand still while, in the reality of the facts, one of the most cruel and underhand war is happening. As it happened before when an artist has been invited to document a story - I can think, for instance, about some documentary movies by Pier Paolo Pasolini - what comes out is a new vision, maybe a subtle one, but that for sure can tell a lot. They say: "This is the triumph of modern warfare, casting a veil over individual ethical culpability, concealing bloody hands with lily-white gloves."