Tuesday, 2 June 2009

27 [2 June 2009]

I've just had the most bizarre experience. Last week I was emailed by a student from St Louis, Missouri, she wanted to interview a printmaker - she had googled print studios in St Louis and came up with the name of my studio: Atelier St Louis, named after the village in which we live: St Louis in France. I explained and then jokingly said that she could Skype me - which is exactly what she just did.

I gave a 15 minute presentation on the techniques I use and also the theme of my subject-matter, I explained about Rivesaltes. The group was really interested even though this was their first class of the day, whilst I had just swallowed the last mouthful of my evening meal. The lecturer likened my work to Kiefer who has two pieces in St Louis Museum and offered me a Steichan (or was it a stipend?).

They're going to read this blog, so hi St Louis.

Friday, 29 May 2009

26 [29 May 2009]

I was in Leclerc (France's Tescos) this morning in Limoux, the book section. I was looking for a book that has just been published on the camp at Rivesaltes that I knew was available in other branches. I looked on the shelves next to the till, the local interest section - I found loads of books on Rennes-le-Chateau (local Glastonbury) and also on the Cathars, but not the book on Rivesaltes. The cashier had to phone the manager, he took me to the history section where we found the book. When I asked why the book wasn't on the display of local interest books he said that it is a history book - I pointed out the title: "Les Camps de Rivesaltes, 1935 - 2007", he replied it's not a subject that tourists would be interested in. Bizarre.


I've been corresponding with Suzanne Bardgett (Head of Department of Holocaust and Genocide History at The Imperial War Museum) regarding my project and coincidentally she shall be in this area during the summer, so we are trying to arrange to meet so that I can give her a tour of the camp. She mentioned the 'Journal of Helene Berr', a Parisian Jew who was sent to Auschwitz from Drancy and then was killed at Bergen - Belsen five days before its liberation. She has been called France's Anne Frank. I wasn't aware that it had been published, but will now add it to my reading list - I am looking forward to reading something that's been translated in to English for a change - all the books I've read recently have been in French and very hard work.

 I'm also in the process of watching "The Sorrow and the Pity" (French documentary made in 1969 on Vichy France's collaboration with Germany during the war, including interviews of resistance members from Clermont-Ferrand, German soldiers, politicians, French and British MOD). I'm finding it fascinating, it's putting all the snippets of information on France during the war in to a context.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

25 [20 May 2009]

I've been working on a series of line paintings (similar to the aluminium works) for the past two years; based on a video again, but I struggled to find that ineffable something that a painting needs. Well I found it today - perhaps it was the gorgeous weather we're having here, perhaps it was the sound of crickets, or that my wife could look after little Emilie allowing me to 'get dirty' and not worry about having to change a nappy . . . whatever it was, I'm glad they're finished after 2 years of dabbling, wiping away and thinking they're finished whilst not being convinced that I could ever show them.

Today I basically glazed over a texture of lines (which I'd built up methodically over weeks, maybe fifty layers) and manipulated the drips. The fluid paint has now sunk into the textures which has emphasised the lines. As a result of the wet paint the surface seems to have great depth which will probably disappear when they dry; I'm reluctant to use a gloss varnish, so I'll do some experiments.

There is little I can do in the studio, that is, until I can move the paintings, which is good as I've got some reading to catch up on; I recently received in the post an M.Phil thesis written on the most active and shocking years of the camp, 1941-1942. Morbid, but interesting are photos of the incinerator (still standing but undiscovered by me) and tombs in the cemetary in the town of Rivesaltes. It looks like I'll be making another visit soon.


Jonathan Moss, 'Untitled (Working title: 'Argeles')', Oil, 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss. Work in progress

Sunday, 17 May 2009

24 [17 May 2009]

This weekend I've been a little disappointed that I couldn't attend the Video Art Festival in Athens (too short notice), I decided to throw myself headfirst in to making some prints, which I've put off for a while.

Mid print-run, I heard the postman knock at the door - the "Place, Identity and Memory" catalogue had arrived. I have a book of prints in the exhibition which starts next week in Dumfries. My book is based on the 'Rivesaltes. Shoah' series of videos, see Post 8. The catalogue is a thing of beauty, hand-bound with origami-style fold-outs showcasing each of the 70 books. Unfortunately I couldn't hold the catalogue immediately as I was covered in ink.

The few days printing were tiring, but rewarding. I made four plates, carborundum on aluminium - printing on Whatman, which is always exciting as the ink seems to 'enter' the paper which still remains luminous. I was most pleased by the prints which were totally dark ('RSA. PI.'), the delineation of form is dependent on the contrast of the carborundum lines (the ink rested on the surface of the paper) with the spaces in between (ink which was pressed into the paper).

Once the print-run was finished, I decided to turn the plates in to finished works - the results being much more visually dramatic than the prints! Both the plates and prints have their own merits though. This week it's back to less exciting work, cleaning the prints.


Top: 'Place, Identity & Memory'. Gracefield Arts Centre, 22nd May - 27th June. Then touring throughout Scotland.

Jonathan Moss, 'RSA', Ink and carborundum on aluminium, 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

23 [12 May 2009]

The Holocaust is featuring a lot in the news this week.

Today the trial of John Demjanjuk has started in Munich. He is accused of taking part in the murder of 29,000 Jews, but he claims it is a case of mistaken identity - he says he was a prisoner of war held by the Nazis during the war and not an SS guard at Sobibor death camp.

This is the second time he has stood trial - originally in 1988 for the same crimes, by an Israeli court - he was sentenced to death as 'Ivan the Terrible' but later released due to lack of evidence. He has lived in America since 1951.

Headline news, shows people are still concerned by issues concerning the Holocaust.

In France there is a different format for the news on TV - it was reported, half an hour into the news for ten seconds, immediately following the thirty seconds dedicated to the pope's visit to Jerusalem.

Back to paper cutting . . .



22 [12 May 2009]

I have just had two videos accepted for the Athens Video Art Festival:


They only contacted me yesterday, it starts on Thursday, so too short notice for me to attend, which is a shame.

Recently I seem to have dedicated a lot of time to filling in application forms, preparing DVDs and stills, writing summaries, packing up the work and nipping out to the post office, only to never hear from the organisers again. I put this down to the fact that I decided to include a statement at the start of the videos explaining their origin:

This is a video-walk through ruins and across scrub in a former concentration camp at Rivesaltes in the south of France, between the Mediterranean and the mountains on the edge of a motorway. Refugees have been held here during the dark episodes of the twentieth century: the Spanish Revolution, World War Two when thousands of Jews were sent from here to Auschwitz, the Algerian War of Independence, and recently, Eastern Europeans without visas seeking a better life.

The videos (including the ones accepted by Athens) ceased to be obscure and started to be overtly about the Holocaust and the other dark periods of twentieth century France. Prior to this year the same videos, without the statement, were generally accepted for festivals.

I accept that the work is not straightforward when compared to figurative videos based on a narrative, which was a reason for me to add the statement in the first place - my work demands time and effort from the viewer and the viewing experience desired is more akin to the experience of viewing paintings (after all, I am a painter).

I suppose it's just how it goes - win some, lose some. If the work is not suited to some festivals / galleries it means that I have to spend more time targeting the ones who are sympathetic to my style of work and subject. The statement on the videos will stay for now.

Image: 'Athens Video Art Festival 2009'.

21 [12 May 2009]

As the boredom struck whilst cutting paper for a new series of prints based on my new 'line' / 'zip' series on aluminium I 've been watching the news.

The pope's visit to Israel has reminded me that the subject of the Holocaust actually is a 'hot-topic'. The media hype may be obscuring the facts, but it was fascinating to watch the pontiff make his speech at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, the camera focusing on the chairman: Rabbi Lau, a Holocaust survivor, looking on disapprovingly. Afterwards he expressed disappointment at the speech: "there certainly was no apology expressed here . . .". For what?

The press have reported that the pope is in a difficult position: he was a member of Hitler Youth (reluctantly) conscripted during the war, is planning to make Pope Pius XII (wartime pope who stayed neutral during the war and did nothing to hault the killing of Jews) a saint and has reinstated Bishop Richard Williamson and four colleagues who were excommunicated for denying the existence of the Holocaust (Williamson stated 20 years ago:" There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies. The Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new state of Israel . . . Jews made up the Holocaust").

It has been reported that the Pope's presence at the Holocaust Memorial is a statement against the Holocaust deniers in itself. He also paid tribute to the memory of the six million Jews who perished: "May the names of these victims never perish. May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotton".

It is not for me to comment - I just find it fascinating that the visit has caused such controversy; I cannot stop being reminded of all though armchair critics of my work who tell me it is not relevant today.

Back to paper cutting now - a day of printing tomorrow.




Image: Jonathan Moss, 'RSA II', Mixed media on aluminium, 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

20 [1 May 2009]

I woke at 7.00 to create an installation in a friend's barn as part of the "De Ferme en Ferme" (an open day for organic farms in the area) with three other artists.

The sheep were milked at 8.00, so I couldn't set up until they had left the barn. When I arrived the smell of sheep-shit was overwhelming, still steaming. This must have been the coldest and wettest day we have had in a long time - the barn might be warm and cosy for the sheep, but I was freezing. The roof leaked and many of the drips landed exactly where I wanted to place the screen, simple solution, hang a bucket over it to catch them.

The barn was dark, so I exploited this: two spots gave a warm light, the paintings on metal seemed to glow from behind as the light hit them whilst they swung in the wind, which incessantly hurtled through.

The afternoon was quite entertaining, following a long May-Day lunch many visitors were just a little intoxicated, some rolling about in the hay (pulling cables), some singing and others just giggling - a unique experience amidst my videos and paintings. Many stumbled at the fact that the videos were shown on an equal level to the paintings, so I decided that it would have been too much to expect them to be open to the origin of the work, I therefore didn't include a written explanation. Amidst questions about technique and "how long did that take you?", there were thankfully several visitors who took the time to be absorbed in the atmosphere I had created and took an interest in the underlying theme. A French friend told me that this blog, the research and creative work that I'm doing is important, which was refreshing to hear.

The sound of my videos filled the barn; Andi, the farmer, had been recorded milking the sheep, so, in the background, a calming, repetitive and quite meditative sound complemented my installation; I feel though, that it would have been good for the sheep to be roaming in and out, bleating and causing mayhem amidst the cables and lights.

The sheep were milked again at 6.00, so, following the final visitors I had to pack up pretty quickly.


Top: 'Blaise Merino setting up sound installation', May 1st 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

Paola di Prima, '"Baches"', Photo. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

Sam Sweeting, ''Bestilalia' featuring Donkey Girl', Video, 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss

Jonathan Moss, 'La Borde Installation', Video, Painting, Sound, May 1st 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

Jonathan Moss, 'La Borde Installation', Video, painting, bucket, May 1st 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

19 [14 April 2009]

Continued from post 18...

I read this week in a journal on French cultural matters for ex-pats (which I would normally avoid) that the Holocaust in France is a taboo subject, which I now know to be true . . . I'm still trying for that elusive show in France of my work based at Rivesaltes - it's probably too close to home, strange how, as a nation, they have not come to terms with their recent history. I won't be deterred though.

I am showing my videos and paintings in a barn next month with three other artists from the area: Sam Sweeting, a performance artist, Blaise Merino, the musician I have recently collaborated with and Paola Di Prima, an installation artist - it's a privilege to show with them. We've hi-jacked a local organic farm festival - I was in two minds to explain my work or not, but have now decided to include my statement and photos of the camp as part of the exhibition; I will find the visitors' responses interesting (I might even secretly record them).

I've just finished some prototypes for a show later in the year, sand on aluminium, I'll show them in the barn on the 1st May.


Jonathan Moss, 'RSA I', Mixed media on aluminium, 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

18 [14 April 2009]

I've spent the last month researching Vichy France, the Holocaust in France and finding the odd respite in painting. To be honest it got me down a bit.

I've been reading original documents from 1942, notices sent to Mayors regarding reporting the Jews living in their towns in order for them to be sent to Rivesaltes and then on to Auschwitz, letters from the Bishop of Toulouse pleading for innocent people not to be interned in the camps, records of those sent to Auschwitz.

One thing that really struck me was that many of the Jews interned in the camps were refugees and were genuinely seeking refuge on their journey away from the anti-semitism of Germany - so at the start of the war they voluntarily stayed at the camps, as the war continued it became harder for them to have a day-pass to leave for the day, have food vouchers and have visitors; in 1942 their liberty was taken away and most of them were sent to Auschwitz. A Nazi collaborator in Petain's government, Laval (who Petain attempted to fire), arranged to send the Jews of occupied and free France to the extermination camps as part of the Final Solution.

I watched Shoah, which is a ten hour documentary made in 1985, made up entirely of interviews of Holocaust survivors, extermination camp guards and local residents who lived next to the camps - powerful stuff. The interviewer pressed the same questions again and again and would not relent until the interviewees went into great detail regarding the events. What came over strongly was the continuing anti-semitism in Europe. I thought that this spoke strongly about the feelings of those of a certain age who had lived during the war . . . However, I've had two shocking encounters recently.

I was eating at a friend's house last week. One of the other guests asked on which landscape my work was based - I started to enthusiastically tell him about Rivesaltes, he just stared at me and said that he didn't understand why Jews still go on about the Holocaust . . . I was taken aback, (he went on to explain that he was brought up living next to a camp) - this was the first time I've come across a view such as this. The following day a middle-aged French lady visited my studio, the same question was asked and I explained that I make work based on walking through the ruins and across the scrub of the camp - her response was of bewilderment: "Why make work on the theme of the Holocaust? That's in the past".

Continued in post 19...

17 [16 March 2009]

Yesterday I started another collaboration with a photographer friend (Chris Webb) who is going to organise a joint show of work made at the camp for the Wirksworth Festival.

I was quite shocked to find most of the huts on Ilot F (the section reserved by the Conseil General for the memorial) to be rubble - the result of a huge storm we had on January 24th, winds were over 100 miles an hour. The hut from which Peter Watkins and I projected my videos has disappeared, the yellow wall photographed by Peter and featured in post 12, 2nd Dec has also gone. Most of the Red Cross hut has fallen, including the painted 'red cross' and the word 'Entrée'. The school room, with children's murals, is now also rubble - I am pleased that I had the opportunity to photograph these before the storm.

I don't know if it can be described as a morbid fascination or not, but I found the afternoon inspirational. As I guided Chris around the camp the aroma of thyme filled the air as we trampled across the scrub - I went with the intention of drawing tree trunks for a new series of paintings but ended up photographing sun shining on the decaying walls of one of the still-standing huts, painted yellow again with fissures revealing white lime, new and old graffiti and crumbling plaster.

Some of the graffiti was recent ('tags' made since this part of the camp has been accessible to budding Basquiats) but some looked pre-60s and older. I discovered a small drawing of a couple wearing striped tunics - could this be from the war? I need to do more research. In fact I have just ordered a book of photos which were taken here during 1942 and a book of records from that period - lists of those held at the camps of this area and those who were sent to Auschwitz.

I made a short video of the shadow of a tree rhythmically moving on the wall which was a glimpse of beauty amidst the heavy oppression of the past.

Chris took lots of photos as night fell, illuminating the exterior of the red cross hut with a torch, the result was suitably eerie.

We popped in to a bar on our way back - the atmosphere was subdued, it wasn't until later that we realised France had just lost the rugby to Les Anglais.


Top: 'Tree shadow, hut interior, ilot F', March 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

'Graffiti, interior wall, Ilot F', March 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

'Graffiti, interior wall, Ilot F', March 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

'Chris Webb at work', March 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

Bottom: 'Ilot F - Crumbling Hut 20', March 2009. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

16 [6 March 2009]

It was snowing in our village this morning, so I thought I'd escape with my baby daughter, Emilie, to warmer climes. Armed with A-N magazine I was prepared for a morning of catching up on the art world, drinking coffee and rocking Emilie to sleep. The café was bustling with locals gossiping and drinking Pastis.

An hour in to my quality (?) time with Emilie an acquaintance walked in with his wife. We had met a few times and discovered a common interest in "religious" art and the Modern Painters of Peter Fuller's day. He asked me how my work was going, I told him about this blog on the camp at Rivesaltes – at this, his wife, Suse, nonchalantly said, "My father was held there when the war ended". I was quite taken aback... Here I am making work at a site whose history is far removed from me sitting in a café reading and entertaining my daughter whilst escaping the snow. It turns out that her father was a German soldier in Russia at the end of the war; he was sent to Rivesaltes as it was a large camp that could hold thousands of prisoners. She explained how he was a pacifist and caught up (as were so many) in the Nazi regime. As a prisoner -of -war it was a difficult time, but locals took pity and gave him food through the fence.

It was by coincidence that she ended up living in the same part of France. When she first came to the area, she visited the town of Rivesaltes, went to a café, and asked about the camp, the place fell silent and she realised that it was not a subject that they wished to discuss.

I now want to find out if the camp was run by the same French (locals from the nearby town) who worked at the camp during 1942 when so many Jews were held there.

I told Suse about the blog which she seemed keen to read. So, Suse, I hope that you don't mind me recounting our encounter and I look forward to talking more in depth with you.

Image: 'German sign in the Rivesaltes camp'. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

15 [3 March 2009]

Ottica TV is going to have a screening tomorrow night at The Better Bankside Centre, 18 Great Guildford Street (corner of Zoar Street behind Tate Modern), London, SE1. Ten minute movie shorts by a selection of international artists. From 6.00 - 9.00.

They are going to screen RQV2, the first video-walk I made at the camp.

Image: Jonathan Moss, 'RQV2', Video still, 2008.

14 [23 February 2009]

Winter here has been particularly hard, cutting wood and frequently loading the fire has figured highly, but strangely for this time of year has been eclipsed by trips to Berlin and London for exhibitions and screenings and an exciting collaboration with a composer who lives up the road.

Blaise Merino, the composer, is the bassist for what could be described as a thrash-metal trio. He has locked himself away for the winter and focusing on his own work. I emailed a video to him before Christmas as we had previously talked of a collaboration - he finished the piece yesterday. I visited him, not too sure what to expect. There is definitely throbbing bass, but echoing the rhythm of my footsteps and syncopated juxtaposition of frames. Crackles and distortion give way to hypnotising waves of sound. It's refreshing to work with someone in tune with what I'm doing and sympathetic to the visuals. I plan to upload it to my new website (www.jonathan-moss.com).

I've also found time to start a new series of paintings (sounds like a luxury bonus in the daily routine of things) - I'm basing the images on the wall textures of the huts. Weathered surfaces and drips revealing the passage of time are dominating the work. I intend to spend a day at the camp this week to draw and paint to feed into the process of making.

The wind is strong here at the moment. I'm not looking forward to sitting in a ruined hut waiting for it to crumble around me - they've stood for 70 years, but recently some of the rooves have been partially removed which could have weakened the remaining structure, so I'll probably wait till the wind has died down.


Jonathan Moss, 'RS-A7 ', Video still, 2009. Video still from 'RS-A7', music by Blaise Merino

13 [23 February 2009]

I came across a quote from 'The Journal of Rivesaltes' written on August 9th, 1942 by a Red Cross worker at the camp (Friedel Bohny-Reiter); it describes interns being loaded into cattle wagons headed for Auschwitz and links well with the section of this blog (October 14th) which is going to appear in the a-n magazine next month.

"...Torrid heat at the camp. The barbed wire, tightly strung around K and F blocks, is oppressing. The moans of the tormented still linger in the air. I see them filing out of their barracks, panting under the weight of their belongings. The guards are beside them. Lining up for the role call. Waiting for hours in a field in the sun. Then the trucks arrive to take them to the rail roads. They get off the trucks in two rows, between the guards, and climb on the cattle cars. Some hesitant, others apathetic, others defiantly, heads held high.

This goes on for hours until all are crammed into the cars where the heat is suffocating. I recognise certain faces through the bars. Calling out one last request, or thanking.

At every door, two guards.

I look at the faces. Even despair has disappeared from these aged, ashen, doleful faces.

From the last car we hear "goodbye . . ."


Right: 'Leaving Rivesaltes', 1942

Left: 'Rivesaltes', 1942

12 [2 December 2008]

After a long wait I've received the large format negatives that Peter Watkins kindly took for me at the camp on a blustery night last month - we projected my videos stills on to the walls of the huts.

The photos of the projections on the exterior of the huts have a strange, eerie quality, projected light contrasts with natural disappearing light. It is as if the scene was a stage-set illuminated by stage lighting. I have yet to print the images, but have a few ideas how they can be presented.

The images which strike me most, though, are those of projections on the interior walls - decaying, peeling paint has been worn by 70 years of dripping water; vertical lines made by the rivulets dominate what seems at a glance to be a flat surface.


Top: Jonathan Moss, 'Wall', 2008. Photo: Peter Watkins.

Bottom: Jonathan Moss, 'Projection at Rivesaltes', Photograph, 2008. Photo: Peter Watkins.

11 [19 November 2008]

Recently I've been working on the rushes I made at the sites of the camps - particularly Argeles.

Being totally absorbed by editing on the computer and the creative process seems so far removed from walking and recording at the sites and even more distanced from the events that occurred at these places - but that's the nature of making art.

Viewing the videos frame by frame is very exciting as the random zooms of the vegetation, soil, sand, rocks etc grab my attention for the first time. At this stage I suppose I view the videos as a series of stills and I am constantly working out which stills would work independently to the videos, it is not until I work on the sound that I see these groups of stills as a coherent whole.

So, that's the stage I'm at now - working on the sound, editing the actual noise I encountered whilst recording: my footsteps, the zip of the camera case jingling, breathing, birds singing, waves crashing . . . ; one particular sound I'm looking forward to playing with is that of a wire fence twanging (technical term) in the wind.


Top: Jonathan Moss, 'Argeles 1.1', Video still, 2008.

Middle: Jonathan Moss, 'Argeles 9.6', Video still, 2008.

Bottom: Jonathan Moss, 'Argeles 3.2', Video still, 2008.

10 [6 November 2008]

I was house-sitting for a friend last week at Elne, whilst I was there I visited the Maternite Suisse D'Elne (Swiss Maternity Hospital at Elne) which was active from 1939 - 1944. At this converted mansion mothers who were held captive at the camps of Rivesaltes, Barcares, St Cyprien and Argeles could go to the hospital to give birth (4 weeks prior and 4 weeks following, they then returned to the camps).

The house was restored last year and is now a museum documenting the work of a Red Cross worker: Elisabeth Eidenbenz, who set up and managed the hospital - she saved the life of 500 children.

Whilst I was there, there was a large Spanish family looking around, three generations, some were moved to tears as they looked at the exhibits. I watched as they posed for photographs. I presume that one of the family was born at the hospital during the war.

The house has a really peaceful atmosphere which reflects its role during the war as a little pocket of hope in the midst of despair at the camps.

As part of my documentation of the camps of this area of France I plan to return to make some videos (once I have completed editing recent footage made at Rivesaltes and Argeles).


Top: 'Maternite Suisse, Elne'. Courtesy: Maternite Suisse, Elne.

Bottom: 'Staff with a child outside the Maternite Suisse, Elne'. Courtesy: Maternite Suisse, Elne.

9 [22 October 2008]

I've just returned from a bitterly cold and blustery evening spent at the camp. I went with Peter Watkins, a photographer who is staying with us. Equipped with a generator, projector, laptop and a large format camera we were ready for a night of image-making.

We projected my video-stills (previously made at the camp) on to the huts and then photographed them - I took a few digital shots to get an idea, but the large format shots will probably suffer due to the strong wind and long exposures.

The wind whistled through the decaying hut in which we were based, equipment was blown around violently, I could hear dogs, but Peter assured me it was just the wind. It struck me that, not that long ago, innocent people slept in this small space and experienced similar noises and cold on this desolate plain.


Top: 'Projection onto hut', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss

Middle: 'Video projection onto hut', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss

Bottom: 'Video projection inside one of the huts, Peter focusing his camera', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss

# 8 [18 October 2008]

I have been painting today. It's funny that initially I attempted to recreate the images of my paintings in video and now I am basing my paintings on the stills of the videos. It is also strange how my videos are abstract but the stills themselves become more figurative - details emerge: grass, rocks, textures of dry earth...

My work has always been based on memories of walks in the landscape and I thought why can't the walk itself could be the end result, recorded through video?

It is easy to be absorbed in the process of working with images in the studio, which is important, but I felt with this project that it is vital for me to be personally involved in the camp at Rivesaltes; I have requested to be a volunteer at the detention centre which holds refugees awaiting visas, situated on the edge of the camp where my videos are made.


Top: Jonathan Moss, 'RQVII', Mixed media. Painting based on a video still from a video made at Rivesaltes

Bottom: Jonathan Moss, 'Rivesaltes (Shoah)', Collagraphs, 2008. Photo: Chris Webb. Limited edition book of prints based on video stills from the Rivesaltes videos to be shown at Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries, 23 May - 28 June: 'Place, Identity and Memory'.

7 [17 October 2008]

I watched the Frieze 3 Minute Wonder last night on Channel 4, interesting to see my video-walk from the camp in that context. I was pleased to have my name on the end credits as a director of the piece; it came up as ‘Jonathan Moss Video’, which I use as my user name on YouTube. Helen (my wife) joked that it was a good thing I didn’t upload the video under my other user name (which I use for my non art-related videos): ‘Jonny Moscovitch’. It sounds comic, but in a round-about way may have been appropriate as Moscovitch is the original surname of my Jewish family who travelled to Britain from Russia as refugees at the end of the 19th Century.

A few weeks ago, during the discussion following the War and Peace screening at the Arnolfini, one of the audience asked why I am so interested in the camp at Rivesaltes, was it simply that it is a landscape local to me? It is my love of landscape which led me to film at Rivesaltes initially – the fact that the landscape has a dark history which is connected to my family’s heritage made it real to me personally.

I like that my videos work on two levels, they present beautiful images but of a landscape that has a horrific past (a ‘landscape of trauma’, as Paul Gough would describe it). I still find it difficult to believe that in such an idyllic part of France a camp of this kind could have existed – every time I visit the camp the atmosphere is heavy with the weight of the past: 2,313 Jews were sent to Auschwitz from there during a 2 month period, the remaining 3,000 died at the camp from disease and malnutrition and this was in ‘Free-France’, they were sent by the French from an area not governed by Germany. I plan to visit the camp over the next few days, this time to project my videos on to the walls of the huts at night and to photograph the images made.


Top: 'Rivesaltes 1942'. Courtesy: Conseil General Pyrenees-Orientales.

Middle: 'Refugees at Rivesaltes 1942'. Courtesy: Conseil General Pyrenees-Orientales

Bottom: 'The Rivesaltes Camp Memorial'. Courtesy: Conseil General Pyrenees-Orientales

6 [15 October 2008]

Yesterday evening I found out that a short clip of one of my Rivesaltes videos has been included by the Frieze Foundation for their film "Road Movie" and will be shown on Channel 4 tomorrow (Thursday 16th October) during the "Three-Minute Wonder" slot at 7.55pm after the News. It is the fourth film in a series shown since Monday. All four films can be viewed on You tube:


Image: Still from "Road Movie", Frieze Films', Video still, 2008.

5 [14 October 2008]

The weather was pretty bad in our village, in fact it was completely hidden in cloud, so I thought it was a good idea to head for the coast. On the way I decided to make an unplanned stop at the camp at Rivesaltes – probably my 20th visit, so I didn’t expect to find anything new . . . I was a bit shocked to see, close-up, the large section of the huts (in fact a whole row) demolished. Next to the pile of rubble a sign read – Rivesaltes camp: Restoration of the barracks – it struck me as an odd take on restoration.

I have spoken with the director of the memorial and she had told me the huts themselves were going to be the memorial with a monument / visitor centre positioned next to them. I suppose some huts had to go to make room for the centre.

I made some footage of the debris (a large pile of wooden planks from the rooves and concrete from the walls), a video-walk around it. I had my 4 yr old son Louis with me – I told him not to talk (a bit hopeful). For over 3 minutes he repeated the words “Are there any people here?", I’m sure I can use that somehow.

Heading for the coast I followed one of the camp’s tracks, not one I’d followed before; it took me to an industrial estate. The other side of the estate I waited at a railway-crossing for a train to pass (Perpignan to Paris) – I noticed a siding, just 500m from the camp; I knew that Jews were taken to Auschwitz by train, in cattle-wagons, via Drancy in Paris, but wrongly presumed they walked to the town of Rivesaltes to be loaded on to trains. This nondescript missable piece of railway track played a role in one of the worst episodes of the history of mankind – people must pass it everyday (as they do the camp) and be unaware of its reason for being. I plan to return to the siding to film it whilst walking, something repetitive and rhythmic, perhaps even encouraging reflection on the history of this part of France.


Top: 'Siding, Rivesaltes to Auschwitz', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

Middle: 'Hut debris', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

Bottom: "Restoration"', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

4 [11 October 2008]

Along the coast around Perpignan there are many sites of WW2 holding camps.

Argeles today is known as a seaside resort, so I thought it would be a good idea to film what remains of the camp. What I found was a vast expanse of wasteland bordering the sea, an area of scrub-land with only cacti for vegetation.

It’s out of season, so there were hardly any holiday-makers, just a few naked old men scattered along the beach enjoying the last of the summer sun. Even at midday the place was eerie, no huts remained, just areas where buildings obviously had been.

I walked over the scrub, an area fenced off as a nature reserve.

Vast, empty, bleak and silent (apart from a few birds singing, passing through, heading south) as if the past history of this place could not be completely obliterated.

I walked in circles for over an hour through this bland repetitive piece of land, no distinguishing features, just barren, not a lot of notable features to film, quite monotonous.

As I walked back to the car I passed a camp-site, mobile homes enclosed by a large wall, my friend asked me what they reminded me of, I answered the concentration camp at Rivesaltes – what a bizarre place to holiday.

I now have cactus thorns in my feet, in fact embedded in my shoes; not the most comfortable walk I’ve ever made, but I'm sure I have some footage I can use.


Top: Mobile Homes at Argeles Nature Reserve', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

Bottom: 'Argeles Nature Reserve', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss.

3 [6 October 2008]

The videos have been really well received, especially in the UK. In France the Memorial Commission are interested in doing a screening in the camp which would be really good, but it is difficult to pin them down to a date. Last time I went past the camp the work had started on the memorial and it was strange to see that some of the huts had been demolished.

The most recent project in which I have been involved was the "War and Peace" event organised by Fiona Meadley on 21st September 2008 for World Peace Day. Films by 8 artists were selected to be shown in various venues including the Arnolfini in Bristol. One of my films of Rivesaltes was chosen. The showreel was really powerful and was followed by a discussion chaired by Prof Paul Gough of the UWE. See the War and Peace website for more details: http://www.war-and-peace.info/


Top: Jonathan Moss, 'Rivesaltes (Shoah) series', Video still, 2007.

Bottom: Jonathan Moss, 'Rivesaltes (Shoah) series', Video still, 2008.

2 [30 September 2008]

I started filming in Camp Joffre, initially in the area which was still in use as a detention centre for "illegal" immigrants (often asylum seekers). I didn't really understand at that stage the geography of the camp (it is vast). I was stopped by a police officer and asked what I was doing!

Later I found the part of the camp which was used during the Second World War. It is known as "îlot F"(the name of the barracks in that area). I made several hours of walks through the undergrowth and over the tiles, through the buildings and along the old barbed wire. The atmosphere was eerie. It is quite an exposed place, the power of the wind must have made life uncomfortable for those living there.

I started working on the footage. Some of the walks could be used in their entirety, uncut. The images were surprisingly beautiful. I felt that I needed to work on the sound: I liked the idea of juxtaposing these images with a more sinister sound track to reflect the atmosphere of the camp. I had recorded my footsteps during the walks and I played with the frequencies to create the effect I wanted.


Top: Jonathan Moss, 'Rivesaltes (Shoah) series', Video still, 2008

Bottom: 'Huts', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss. Hut numbers, painted in 1942, still exist