Cover image of the review
Installation view of Richard Mosse, Broken Spectre, 2018-2022. NGV International, Melbourne. Image: Tom Ross

Richard Mosse: Broken Spectre

18 Feb 2023
National Gallery of Victoria | NGV International 1 Oct - 23 Apr 2023

You arrive at the screening Broken Spectre by the New York-based Irish artist Richard Mosse by passing through the cheerfully rearranged twentieth-century Western art on the NGV’s third floor. Avoiding the Judd cube and if you’re lucky glancing left instead and seeing Sarah Lucas’ tits in Self Portrait with Fried Eggs (1996) on the far wall, you enter Broken Spectre with the aural invitation of Ben Frost’s unnz unnz soundtrack. The frequency of our state gallery’s display of Mosse’s work in solo-exhibition (The Enclave in 2015, and Incoming in 2017) has robbed it somewhat of the force of its pomp, as has the comparable technical brilliance of LUME, Melbourne’s moving art light-show (currently showing Monet and Friends, adults $44), but take a seat in a bean bag and get ready to be impressed.

In there, five separate projectors combine on the screen in the twenty-metre wide room, creating a 32:9 double anamorphic visual plane. Grainy black and white 35mm film, is cut, overlaid, and juxtaposed with iridescent ultraviolet and multispectral images demonstrating Mosse’s ocular mastery. For over an hour and a quarter, and with a surprisingly identifiable narrative structure, Mosse is showing us what’s going on in the Amazon. Initially I thought the work’s title was a reference to the opening lines of The Communist Manifesto (1848), “a spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism”, the political import of which was totally perplexing to me. But as a recovering failed Heidegger-bro I looked to the etymology of spectre and realised that along with ghost or apparition, it is of course the root of spectrum—by which Mosse appears to be saying things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. My friend Simon later informs me of the Brockengespenst, or Brocken spectre phenomenon named after the Harz mountains, where the observer’s body is captured between the light source (usually the sun) and a clouded field before them, producing an ethereal rainbow lens-flare that surrounds their shadow. In any case Mosse, undaunted, gathers light with his ultraviolet, infrared, multispectral cameras, an attempt at ocular totality.

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