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  • Date and time: Wednesday 17 January 2018, 6.00pm to 8.00pm
  • Location: TFTV/ 109 (Graduate Screening Room)

Event details

‘The Heat Signatures of Refugee Transit: Incoming by Richard Mosse (2017)’

Richard Mosse’s video installation, Incoming, shown at London’s Barbican (Curve Gallery) in 2017, enters what the artist acknowledges is‘over-photographed’ terrain. The work comprises slow motion cinematography and still photography connected to the ongoing crisis in Europe: sea rescues, ferry transportations, a forensic examination, and footage from refugee camps. But it also draws on a wider field, with images of a people smugglers’ transit hub in the Sahara, of military operations launched from a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and of airstrikes in northern Syria, viewed from across the Turkish border. Mosse’s repurposed camera is a piece of military-grade thermographic technology. Instead of registering particles of matter on the visible light spectrum, the camera delineates heat signatures, representing people and objects in alarming close-up and from distances of over 30 kilometres. Monochromatic images register the temperature fluctuations of bodies and things, rendering waxy faces, bleached hair and blackened mouths. Beyond obvious references to refugee appearance (though not to having arrived), and to missile technology, the verb-form title, Incoming, is suggestive of transfers, processes and exchanges. And Mosse’s camera sees bodies as ‘doings’, before it sees them as ‘beings’ (in the sense of identity, political status, rights, or lack thereof). The distillation of people into metabolic signifiers alludes to the readiness with which unauthorised transit is collapsed into biological metaphors (of contamination, parasitism, or inoculation). But Incoming also attests to the reach of biometric modalities – which include Mosse’s own heat-sensitised images, but also retina scans, fingerprints, facial maps, and full-body scans – suggesting that biological and political systems are not merely analogous: they are interpenetrative. Together with the hypothermic and hyperthermic extremes of the military industrial and surveillance complexes that are shot through its videography, Incoming maps out a symptomology of system dysfunction.

Emma Cox is Senior Lecturer in Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research concerns contemporary performance responsive to asylum and migration, cross-cultural commemorative practices, and postcolonial museology. Her books include Performing Noncitizenship (Anthem 2015), Theatre & Migration (Palgrave 2014), and the edited play collection Staging Asylum (Currency 2013).

Dr Emma Cox (Royal Holloway, University of London)