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Reviewed by:
  • Camouflage Cultures: Beyond The Art of Disappearance ed. by Ann Elias, Ross Harley, Nicholas Tsoutas
  • Michael Punt, editor-in-chief, Hannah Drayson, associate editor, Dene Grigar, and Mike Leggett
Camouflage Cultures: Beyond The Art of Disappearance
edited byAnn Elias,Ross Harley, andNicholas Tsoutas. Sydney University Press, Australia, 2015. 215pp., illus. Paper. ISBN978-1-743-32425-7.

Camouflage is a term rich in implication and connections of all kinds, including gentle forms of humor. A military officer addresses a subordinate: “I didn’t see you at camouflage training this morning, Smith.” To which he receives the reply, “Thank you, Sir.”

This is not attributed to the contributors of this volume, who first presented at an international conference and exhibition of contemporary art held at the Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney in 2013. A keynote by Roy R. Behrens, artist and pioneer researcher in the field (whose books were previously reviewed in LR in June 2010 and January 2012), introduced the ubiquity of camouflage, leading the discussion that developed over the past decade away from the military applications with which the term is more commonly linked toward other researches.

A milieu for the sciences, arts and humanities, assiduously riffing on terms like mimesis, deception, falsification, disguise, even delusion, enable this collection of stimulating essays derived from the conference to encounter a wide range of practical applications for the term camouflage.

Deploying the philosophical dimensions, from cosmos to mythology, Hüppauf commences and Papastergiadis concludes the volume, the thread becoming materialized in a fascinating chapter by Brock and Hasenpusch in describing their work on Australian stick and leaf insects (Phasmida), spectacularly illustrated with contemporary and historical images; even the eggs they lay can be patterned to merge with the vegetation habitat.

Other such “masters of camouflage” are noted by Morris: cephalopods, moths, butterflies and owls. Interest in these have led to advanced biotechnology research delivering “adaptive camouflage” and “Quantum Stealth,” work that is itself concealed, “commissioned by the military and hidden from the public under strict classification.”

The postmodern debates of yesteryear, appropriation, “the poetics of the copy,” avant-garde modernism (apparently this approach “is one of anti-camouflage or attention seeking”) and originality, are applied by McLean to the photo facsimiles of the American Sherrie Levine and the extraordinary works and projects of the Australian artist Imants Tillers. Hansford pursues further “unstable forms of being” by examining recent developments in gene research and the dressing of cells to deceive viruses or to coax an immune system and leads on to a discussion of the work of artists Armanious, Dwyer and Williams, concluding, “We are cuttlefish or we are nothing.”

Camouflage as the aesthetic basis of making two-dimensional artworks is discussed by Tyler, in the context of New Zealand and the Maori, and by Howard and Olubas, “within the changing contexts of inter/national military engagement and artistic collaboration,” a practice that for Howard goes back to the American Vietnam War. More recently, a series of meetings in China has resulted in an artist and a member of the PLA military exchanging work sites, “the material space of collaborative art practice . . . as camoufleurs, Xing Junqin and Ian Howard have exposed their intentions through art, their desire to talk to the other side.”


Reviews Panel:Nameera Ahmed, Fred Andersson, Jan Baetens, John F. Barber, Roy Behrens, K. Blassnigg, Annick Bureaud, Catalin Brylla, Chris Cobb, Ornella Corazza, Giovanna Costantini, Anna B. Creagh, Edith Doove, Hannah Drayson, Phil Dyke, Amanda Egbe, Anthony Enns, Jennifer Ferng, Enzo Ferrara, George Gessert, Allan Graubard, Dene Grigar, Rob Harle, Craig Harris, Harriet Hawkins, Paul Hertz, Craig J. Hilton, Jung A. Huh, Jane Hutchinson, Amy Ione, Boris Jardine, Richard Kade, Valérie Lamontagne, Mike Leggett, Will Luers, Roger Malina, Jacques Mandelbrojt, Florence Martellini, Elizabeth McCardell, Eduardo Miranda, Robert A. Mitchell, Michael Mosher, Sana Murrani, Frieder Nake, Maureen A. Nappi, Martha Patricia Nino, Claudy Opdenkamp, Jack Ox, Jussi Parikka, Ellen Pearlman, Ana Peraica, Stephen Petersen, Michael Punt, Kathleen Quillian, Hannah Rogers, Lara Schrijver, Aparna Sharma, George K. Shortess, Brian Reffin Smith, Yvonne Spielmann, Eugenia Stamboliev, Elizabeth Straughan, Malgorzata Sugiera, Charrisa N. Terranova, Eugene Thacker, Yvan Tina, Flutur Troshani, Rene van Peer, Stefaan Van Ryssen...


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pp. 463-464
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