Abstraction, Bare Life, and Counternarratives of Mobility in the Refugee Films of Richard Mosse and Ai Weiwei, Incoming and Human Flow
This chapter explores the unprecedented formal experiments of Richard Mosse and Ai Weiwei in their attempts to capture the signature global event of our time, the mass movements of refugees and immigrants across geopolitical boundaries. In Mosse’s Incoming, a thermal camera registers the heat emanating from human bodies from some 30 miles away, providing images of refugees in lifeboats, transport trucks, and refugee camps that are both other-worldly, almost mutant in their strangeness, and deeply moving—images that rivet the gaze. In Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow, drone cameras render the vast scale of human displacement around the world—a view from above is interspersed with the close witnessing of cell phone video, using the visual language of spontaneous documentation in counterpoint with a technology associated with military surveillance. In both films, Giorgio Agamben’s concept of “bare life” is articulated within an advanced optical and technological framework that brings new critical questions into view.