Incoming Humans

Richard Mosse: Incoming
The Curve, Barbican Centre, London
15.02.17 – 23.04.17

My only recollection of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Hordes of half-orcs, in the service of Saruman, are repelled by our Rohirrim heroes. The heads of the half-orcs are shrouded by helmets, the blank expanses of darkness at the bottom of their faces contorted into the semblance of mouths. Their identifying features are those of generic monstrosity – hulking masses of flesh, occasionally grunting or wailing grotesque noise. The half-orcs do not speak – they make sound, not words – and they are not named. Of course, it makes them all the more disposable, as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are able to slay them in their droves. And despite the half-orcs continuously perishing, there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of more.

It’s a tactic familiar in cinema, of the named ‘good’ ( ‘us’ ) against the nameless ‘bad’ ( ‘them’ ) in combat scenes, where the life of one of the ‘good’ is worth hundreds of the ‘bad’. And it’s startlingly frequent in political rhetoric as well. We might look back in a similar light on David Cameron referring to ‘a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean’ in July 2015: migrants as inhuman, identified only as a countless mass of creatures and never as individual human beings. And it was this ‘mass’ of people seemingly forming a queue to enter Britain that was also illustrated in the ‘Breaking Point’ poster used by Nigel Farage during the Leave campaign: ‘We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders’ read the caption beneath.

It seems strange, then, that Richard Mosse had the ambition to, as he says, ‘create an immersive, humanist art form, allowing the viewer to meditate on the profoundly difficult and frequently tragic journeys of refugees’, when he produced the three-channel video Incoming, the centrepiece of his exhibition Incoming at The Curve in the Barbican Centre.1 Seen only by the heat they emit, the bodies and faces of these people are frequently ghost-like or grotesque: black craters for eyes, a smear of white for a nose – barely human, as they move in a world separate from our own. Even more odd, Mosse recognises that his footage of these individuals through his military-grade thermal camera ‘carries a certain aesthetic violence, dehumanising the subject, portraying people in zombie form as monstrous, stripping the individual from the body’.

The question this poses, then, is a matter of concern: what is the artist to do, aware that he is dehumanising the individuals in the humanitarian crisis he documents? Why, we might wonder, would it be necessary to depict these individuals as even less human than they have already been portrayed, in multiple forms of media, and even by the former Prime Minister? Mosse’s answer is to claim to be questioning that dehumanisation. He explains that ‘what I really hope people will take away, if nothing else, is this sense of uneasy complicity, as Westerners’. Watching the work, however, does not so much generate the feeling of my complicity as recognising Mosse’s complicity in producing the work. Mosse hopes to redirect that sense of unease away from himself and back onto the viewer. I don’t believe we should fall for it. Making a work that propagates and exacerbates a traditional view of the ‘other’ or the ‘sufferer’ as being less human has to very aggressively challenge this mode of consumption if it is validly to justify its claim to critique. Mosse’s gorgeous cinematic spectacle does none of this: it revels in its superficial beauty, and claims ‘critique’ when the viewer senses manipulation.

How has Mosse completed this work despite his own self-confessed conflict over generating a ‘humanist art form’ while simultaneously ‘dehumanising the subject’? The answer seems to lie in the genuine subject of this film: his camera. It all began when a wildlife cinematographer introduced him to this long-range thermal imaging device. It doesn’t begin with the stories of migrants or a humanitarian crisis. It doesn’t begin, and never really touches, in fact, with exposing the stories of humans. Rather, Mosse explains: ‘We began to listen carefully to the camera, to really let it show us what it wanted to do.’ He goes on: ‘Initially, I felt rushed to release the work quickly, before someone else discovered the camera’s potential.’ The reason for his focus is based on the appearance of the footage: ‘In spite of the camera’s coldly brutal function, our initial test shoot revealed a type of imagery that is extremely aesthetic.’ It’s the sort of appearance reminiscent of, for example, the night vision footage used in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty for the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. I can see cinematographers licking their lips at the prospect of adopting it for whatever the next depiction of American military involvement abroad might be. And there’s a good reason for that – because Mosse here has made cinema. It’s three-screen, 7.2 surround sound cinema. He acknowledges that the slowing down of the footage from 60 to 24 frames per second was ‘to give the material a less distracting, more cinematic feel’. It’s quite clearly spectacular, and the result is pure spectacle. And, as Guy Debord first described, spectacle is precisely the substitute for genuine activation or involvement. The viewer is pinned, incapacitated and overwhelmed by spectacle. For it permits a degree of exposure without being genuinely threatened. I am reminded of a quote by Maurice Blanchot: ‘Man, well protected within the four walls of his familial existence, lets the world come to him without peril, certain of being in no way changed by what he sees and hears. “Depoliticization” is linked to this movement.’2 It is for this reason that we are happy to act as spectators of this unfolding tragedy, ready to be activated only when it comes knocking on our door, at which point we are more than happy to pull up the drawbridge and banish it, to reject that wandering tribe as a swarm of nameless intruders.

Part of the effect of the manipulative separation we feel is the distance Mosse enforces between himself and the unwitting people he depicts. Because the camera could detect body heat from up to 30.3 kilometres, and because the camera and its associated equipment weighed 80 kilograms altogether, Mosse was a fixed observation post, keeping a close eye on the individuals he was so detached from. Proximity provides names, it permits trust, it permits consent from individuals to be photographed. The predominant named individuals in this work are Richard Mosse ( artist ), Trevor Tweeten ( cinematographer ) and Ben Frost ( composer ). There is a telling moment of rare proximity described by Mosse when a ship carrying three hundred migrants sank off Lesbos on 28 October 2015, killing dozens. Mosse reports: ‘We hung back but Ben Frost, the composer, recorded audio at close range as dying children coughed up blood and rescue workers held them aloft by their heels, slapping their backs in a frantic attempt to clear their lungs.’ This is a self-enforced distance that provides peace for the creators and a proximity that is only ever used to add to the spectacle of the work.

We might compare the direction of this gaze and the distance involved to Trevor Paglen’s Limit Telephotography series where he uses long-range cameras to photograph remote and hidden classified military bases and installations that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Paglen is, at the very least, proposing that in as much as the populace is watched by the state, there is the potential for citizens to return this voyeuristic gaze. By some Foucauldian logic, this might even in some way regulate the state’s behaviour. What is notable about the distance involved between Paglen and his target is that it is enforced by state restrictions, a measure of the state’s control over geographical ‘black sites’, to which they forbid public access. Paglen is forced to see in from afar. Mosse is deliberately staying at arm’s length, because his camera permits it. Paglen is using the technology against those who use it: a reversal of gaze. Mosse claims to be ‘using the technology against itself’, when, in fact, his use of it is for the exact purpose for which it was designed: to monitor nameless masses of people from a distance, exacerbating a traditional version of state-sanctioned observation where those surveilled are controlled.

What is required first and foremost in response to a humanitarian crisis is surely to register it as real, and not as cinema. Perhaps the most worrying question raised by Incoming is why this crisis, already filled with narrative and tragedy, requires an injection of aestheticised spectacle. Are we so desensitised to the real that it must now be flavoured with the spectacular? In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag notes that ‘a catastrophe that is experienced will often seem eerily like its representation’.3 She goes on to explain that ‘It felt like a movie’ is how survivors of catastrophe explain their experience. This is because our exposure to catastrophe is so often spectacularly mediated in cinema that it is difficult to understand in any version of the real. Mosse reports that ‘the camera seemed to simultaneously evoke three modes of storytelling: the mythic, the documentary, and the science fiction’. He has created a fantasy landscape for otherworldly creatures. The challenge we face is surely in enabling the public to see these events as real, and, most importantly, as something to which we can and should react.

1. All quotes by Richard Mosse are from his essay, ‘Transmigration of the Souls’, in Incoming, MACK, London, 2017, unpaginated.
2. Maurice Blanchot, ‘Everyday Speech’, trans. Susan Hanson, Yale French Studies, no. 73, ‘Everyday Life’ ( 1987 ), p. 15.
3. Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, Picador, New York, 2003, p. 21.


《理查德· 莫斯:即将进入》
2017 年2 月15 日 – 2017 年4 月23 日

译/ 顾虔凡

我对《指环王》唯一的记忆:双塔奇兵讲述了圣盔谷之战。为萨鲁曼 ( Saruman ) 服役的半兽人部落,被我们洛汗王朝 ( Rohirrim ) 的英雄们击退。半兽人的头部被盔甲覆盖,脸部底端黑色的空白部分被扭曲成了嘴巴的样子。他们可被识别的那种特征就是普通怪物的样子—笨重的躯干身块,偶尔发出咕噜咕噜的奇怪声音。半兽人不会说话,他们发出声响但并不构成语词, 而且他们没有名字。当然了,这些都让他们更容易被摧毁,像是阿拉贡 ( Aragorn ), 莱格拉斯 ( Legolas ) 和金利 ( Gimli ) 都能把他们杀死。并且,尽管半兽人在不断灭亡,但他们似乎有着源源不断的供给。

这种策略在电影中很常见,争斗的场景通常都是所谓的“好人” ( 也就是“我们” ) 对抗那些无名的“坏人” ( “他们” ),而且“好人” 中的一员往往值得牺牲数百条“坏人”的生命。这种情形在政治性的修辞中也同样常见。我们可以回顾一下戴维· 卡梅伦 ( David Cameron ) 在2015 年7 月提到“一群人穿过地中海”时的说法: 移民是非人的,他们只能够被称之为一群数不胜数的生物,而不是独立具体的个人。正是这“群”人似乎形成了入境英国的长队, 并且被奈杰尔· 法拉奇 ( Nigel Farage ) 在鼓吹脱欧时进行宣传的海报“断点 ( Breaking Point ) ”中当作了背景画面,配图下方的文字写着:“我们必须脱离欧盟,重新掌控自己的边界。”

如此一来,艺术家Richard Mosse 的抱负就显得有些奇怪了, 他在巴比肯艺术中心 ( Barbican Centre ) 举办个展“即将进入: Richard Mosse”时说“要创造一种身临其境的, 人文主义的艺术形式,允许观看者能够对难民们沉重艰难而悲痛的旅程进行沉思”。只有这些人群散发出的热量能被看见,他们通常都只有幽灵般的肢体和脸:重重的黑圈勾勒出眼睛,鼻子部分只是一抹白色— 他们在一个与我们全然不同的世界当中,看起来差不多是人。更奇怪的是,Mosse 通过他军用级别的热红外相机捕捉到这些人的素材,他觉得图像“带着一种特别的美学暴力,在视觉效果上让人物丧失人性,使他们的肖像看起来像是僵尸般诡异,把个体性从人的身上剥离了出去”。

那么,这一问题的提出就意味着:既然艺术家意识到了他在纪录人道主义危机时正在对这些个体进行着去人性化 ( dehumanizing ),他到底在做什么呢?我们或许会感到疑惑, 这些人在此前多种媒体形式中出现时都已经被刻画得很没有尊严了,甚至包括前总理的宣传海报,那为什么在纪录这些个体时还需要用一种让他们显得比当下的处境更卑微的描绘方式呢? Mosse 的回答是要对这种“去人性化”进行质疑。他解释说:“我真正希望人们所能感受到的,就是作为西方人的这种不安分的共谋感。”不过,观看他的作品并没有让我产生如同Mosse 在创作时候的那种共谋感。Mosse 只是希望把他自己感受到的这种不安从自己身上转移到观众那里。而我则不认为我们应当替他付出这种情绪上的代价。创作出一件宣扬并加剧了对“他者”传统看法的作品, 或者说让这些“遭受苦难的人”看起来更加得非人,必须非常积极地挑战这种消费苦难的模式才能有效地表明其批判性的主张。而Mosse 看起来华美如电影版的场面完全做不到这些:它沉醉在自己肤浅表面的美感中,而当观看者感受到被操控之时却反过来声称自己是“批判的”。

他在生成一种“人文主义的艺术形式”的同时面临着“让人物丧失人性”的困扰,Mosse 也有这种自知,那么他又是如何无视这些而完成这件作品的呢?答案似乎就在于这则影片真正的主体: 他的摄影机。故事的开端源起于一位野生动物摄影师将这种远程热像录影设备介绍给了他,而不是什么移民的故事或者某个人文主义危机。所以这些人的故事从未真正开始,事实上,也根本没有真正触及。相反,如Mosse 所解释的:“我们仔细地倾听这台摄影机,真正地让它展露出它想做到的事。”他还说:“起初,我觉得在其他人发现这种摄影机的潜力之前就把作品公之于众有些太过草率。”他关注的起因是基于这些素材片段的面貌:“尽管这个相机冰冷残酷,但是我们起初的测试拍摄呈现出了一种极具美感的图像。”这种图像的外观会让人联想到凯瑟琳· 毕格罗 ( Kathryn Bigelow ) 在《猎杀本· 拉登 ( Zero Dark Thirty ) 》中用夜视镜头拍摄的对本· 拉丹 ( Osama bin Laden ) 的捕杀袭击。我可以感受到,无论美国军方在海外的下一步行动部署是什么,采用这样的拍摄手法都会让摄影师们兴奋得舔舔自己的嘴唇。他们这样做当然也是理由充分—因为Mosse 就在这里搭建起了电影院,一个三屏的, 7.2 立体声环绕的影院。他认为将素材片段从每秒60 帧减慢到24 帧是为了“让素材较少干扰,而更具影院的质感”。那显然是一种景观性的画面,结果也如料想般那样是纯粹的奇观。而正如盖· 德博德 ( Guy Debord ) 一开始描述的那样,奇怪正是采取行动或真正卷入到事件之中的一种替代品。观众被钉在画面前,动弹不得,被眼前的奇观所淹没。因为这种奇观允许的是某种程度的暴露,而不会真正感到威胁。这让我想起了莫里斯· 布朗肖 ( Maurice Blanchot ) 的一句名言: “人啊,妥妥地被四壁筑起的家庭所保护着,让这个世界可以毫不危险地来到他面前,让他的所见所闻都无从改变。‘去政治化 ( depoliticization ) ’就这样与此相连。” 2正是出于这个原因,我们很乐意担当这场悲剧的旁观者,只有在它敲响我们房门的时候才会被激活,而且那时我们会无比乐意地将原本可以产生连接的吊桥高高升起然后弃之不用—我们抗拒那个漂移着的群落—抗拒那群无名的入侵者。

我们感受到的那种抽离的被操控感,部分来自于Mosse 在他自己和他所描绘的那群毫不知情的人之间拉开的距离。因为这部摄影机能够捕捉远在30.3 公里之外的人体所散发的热量,而且连同辅助设备一起,相机重达80 公斤,所以Mosse 就像一个固定的观察哨,他与那些被观察的个体之间非常疏远。亲近会带来名称,它允许了信任的发生,也允许了个体对被拍摄这一行为的默许。而在这部作品中,占据主导地位出现的个体的名称是: Richard Mosse ( 艺术家 ), Trevor Tweeten ( 电影摄影师 ) 和Ben Frost ( 作曲人 ) 。非常罕见的亲近的时刻发生过一次, 当时有一艘搭载着三百个移民的船在2015 年10 月28 日沉没于莱斯博斯 ( Lesbos ) 。Mosse 这样做着记录:“我们向后撤退了, 但是作曲人Ben Frost 得以在近距离录下音频,我们能听见垂死的孩子们咳血的声音,救援工作者抓住他们的脚跟将其高高托举起来,猛力地拍打孩子们的后背,努力清理他们咳着的肺。”这种距离感是出自于自我执行的,它能为创作者提供安宁和一种仅仅为作品的奇观增添光彩的亲近感。

我们或许可以将这种凝视的方向和其中涉及的距离感与Trevor Paglen 的“限制远距离照相术 ( Limit Telephotography ) ”系列相提并论,在后者中,Paglen 用长焦段的相机拍摄那些肉眼无法看到的远程而隐蔽的军事秘密基地。Paglen 的这个系列至少有一点是可取的,他让我们知道在这样一个人们遭到政府监控的情形中,公民们至少有这种潜力可以对这种偷窥式的目光予以反击。在一些福柯式的逻辑看来,这甚至可能是用某种方式对国家行为进行调节。在Paglen 和他目标对象之间的距离中,值得注意的是那种受到国家政府限制的执行力,这衡量出了国家对于公众开放度的控制,他们因而设立了地理意义上的“黑牢区域 ( black sites ) ”。Paglen 被迫从远处进行观看。Mosse 也刻意地与观看对象保持着至少一臂之距,因为他的摄影机允许他这么做。Paglen 对这种技术的运用是在反抗那些已经运用这种技术的人: 一种凝视目光的反转。而Mosse 在宣称是“用这种技术反抗技术本身”,而事实上,他只是完全采用这种技术被设计出来的目的在对其进行使用:去监察一定距离之外的, 无名的人群,加剧国家监察的传统形式,对被监视者实施控制。

应对人道主义危机,最首要的肯定是要诚实地对待它,而不是将其视为某部电影。或许,“即将进入”这个展览所带来的最扰人的问题就是,为什么这场已经充满了各种叙述和悲剧的危机还需要被注入一种出于审美的奇观质感。我们已经与真实相距如此之远,而只能接受用奇观调味过的现实了吗?苏珊· 桑塔格 ( Susan Sontag ) 在《关于他人的痛苦》中说:“经历过的灾难往往就像其表征那样看起来诡异可怕。” 她继续解释道,灾难的幸存者在谈及自己的经验时往往觉得“那就像是一部电影”。这正是因为我们在灾难中的暴露太过平常地被电影进行了奇观性的调和,以至于它无从以任何一种真实的形式被理解了。Mosse 认为“摄影机似乎同时唤醒了三种讲述故事的模式:神话式的, 纪录片式的, 科幻式的”。他为某种地外生命创造了一片迷幻的风景。而我们所面临的挑战在于如何让公众将这些时间看作真实的存在, 更重要的是,将其视为我们能够也应当做出回应的事件。

1. 所有Richard Mosse 的引语皆出自他“即将进入 ( Incoming ) ” 展览画册的文章《灵魂的迁移 ( Transmigration of the Souls ) 》, ( 伦敦:MACK,2017 年 ),未标注页码。
2. 莫里斯· 布朗肖 ( Maurice Blanchot ),《每日谈话 ( Everyday Speech ) 》,《耶鲁法国研究》第73 期 ( 1987 年 ),第14 页。
3. 苏珊· 桑塔格 ( Susan Sontag ),《关于他人的痛苦》, ( 纽约: Picador,2003 年 ),第21 页。