Witnessing Deforestation

In his October 2022 victory speech, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva vowed to protect the Amazon and the rights of its indigenous inhabitants. Two months before, 33,116 illegal fire hotspots were recorded in the rainforest – the highest number in 12 years, according to data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE). This startling statistic reflects research published by the journal Nature in 2021, suggesting that “the lungs of the planet” currently emit more carbon dioxide than they absorb – moving towards a point of no return.

Irish artist Richard Mosse (b. 1980) is known for exploring major global issues: conflict, migration and now, ecocide. His latest moving image work, Broken Spectre (2022), uses satellite imagery and a custom-made multispectral video camera to record stark footage of dieback in the Amazon. A false tonal palette turns tropical skies black whilst trees glow like embers. The 74-minute documentation is shown across 20-metre screens, bringing viewers up close to the damage wrought to one of our most precious environments. 

References to Spaghetti Westerns emphasise the collective responsibility for enjoying “fruits of deforestation, from eating cheap beef burgers to sitting on leather seats in luxury cars,” as the artist describes. However, there is renewed hope of a new chapter. “Brazil is ready to resume its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis, protecting all our biomes,” da Silva promises: “Brazil and the planet need a living Amazon.” Mosse’s installation reflects this sentiment, reinforcing the climate conversation.

NGV, Melbourne | Until 23 April


180 The Strand | Until 26 February


Image Credits: Stills from Broken Spectre (2022), five channel 4K video. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and carlier | gebauer, Berlin/Madrid. © Richard Mosse.