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131 8 Just Like Heaven Queer Utopian Art and the Aesthetic Dimension My fat h e r h ate s the color green. He will not dress in green, nor will he furnish his home in the color. I grew up knowing this but not really thinking about it. Once, in the midst of my self-absorbed adolescence, I bought him a green sport shirt for Father’s Day, and he reacted badly. Noticing my disappointment in his reaction to the present he quickly explained that the color green reminds him of the military, and specifically of the forced agricultural labor camp to which he was sent after he applied to move with his family from Cuba to the United States. The rest of my family immigrated in 1968, a year or two after my father had worked in that camp for seven months. He never really talks about that experience except to say that it was very difficult to be separated from his family. He will also speak of his hatred of the soldiers who oversaw him, the green of their uniform, and the general world of green that stood for the Cuban revolution. My forgetfulness on that Father’s Day and my father’s reaction to it foreshadowed the years of arguments that followed as my burgeoning politics became avowedly leftist and, to some relational degree, as the queer way I had chosen to live my life became undeniable. In a way similar to my father’s rejection of the color green, I have always had a strong resistance to camouflage and all it represented. I had a resistance to camouflage in art that resonated with my association of camouflage with militarism and, more specifically, U.S. foreign policy. In the same way that my father rejected the color green for its ideological connotations I could not move past my association of camouflage when I saw some hipster on the street wearing camouflage pants as part of her postpunk outfit. I felt similarly about Andy Warhol’s use of camouflage. I did not like it. It was not so much that I did not get it; it was, more nearly, that I simply refused to get it. In this way I am strangely like my father. He refused to see green as a color that represented quite a few things, including, most prominently, the natural world of plants and animals. And whereas 132 Just Like Heaven his aversion to a color is rooted in what for him is a personal and historical sense of trauma, my problems with camouflage are less grounded in experience and more about my sense of self as a political person. Camouflage, like the color green, is more than its ideologically representative uses. Upon reading an interview with Jim Hodges I began to reconsider my position on this particular aesthetic. When Hodges is asked about the use of camouflage in his work he responds by meditating on his use of the form: Camouflage is a rendering of nature. This is what attracted me to it and still does. It is a manmade depiction of nature by the artist Abott Thayer. He made this observation about animal concealment and goes on to render nature in this simple reduced pattern of shadows—light and dark. I enjoy working with its source, which is nature, and then the issues that have been layered on it politically and culturally. I like loaded materials.1 Hodges’s mention of Thayer and the origins of camouflage separate it from militarism. Thayer’s book, Concealing—Coloration in the Animal Kingdom: An Exposition of the Laws of Disguise through Color and Pattern; Being a Summary of Abbot H. Thayer’s Disclosures, had a widespread influence on the use of military camouflage during World War I.2 Hodges’s invocation of artistic and naturalist origins to what later became a technology of warfare helps us consider the way in which the form is indeed “loaded.” Its meaning is also related to the next question Hodges fields about a lyric from the Laura Nyro song “Emmie.” The line “you ornament the earth” speaks of the relation of art to nature in much the same way that camouflage is an artistic form that attempts to approximate nature. Hodges’s interest in the way in which art touches nature helps me to reconsider my initial rejection of camouflage as a form. The linkage between nature and the ornament is compelling when considering the refusal of a...


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