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The art of camouflage


2 August 2013

Justene Williams, still from video Static Ballet, 2012/13. All images courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery.
Justene Williams, still from video Static Ballet, 2012/13. All images courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery.

An international conference and exhibition co-convened and co-curated by Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) academics, Associate Professor Ann Elias and Nicholas Tsoutas will open next Thursday at the SCA.

The Camouflage Cultures: Surveillance, Communities, Aesthetics, Animals conference and exhibition will address two key principles of camouflage - concealment and deception - in relation to four themes: surveillance, communities, aesthetics, and animals.

The conference theme of 'surveillance' includes war, defence, militaries, and conflict; 'communities' embraces society, the everyday, government, and identity; 'aesthetics' incorporates art, architecture, film, and popular culture; 'animals' includes human and non-human beings, nature, evolution, pattern, and optics.

Exhibition artists include: Robyn Backen, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Debra Dawes, Alex Gawronski, Sarah Goffman, Shaun Gladwell, Emma Hack, Ian Howard, Jan Howlin, Jonnie Morris and Justene Williams.

The exhibition takes its inspiration from the work of artists Max Dupain and Frank Hinder who contributed decisively to Australia's modernist tradition. Less well known, however, is that they both worked for Australia's military during the Second World War, instructing the military in camouflage techniques.

Seconded to the Department of Home Security, they used the techniques of abstraction, cubism and surrealism to help the military camouflage and conceal soldiers, aeroplanes and military equipment. These artists researched how to conceal and disguise objects and bodies for military advantage, instructing their respective military forces in the "art" of camouflage. In World War Two, it was even more important to conceal bodies and objects from the camera's eye than from the human eye. Mechanical eyes - particularly the aerial machine-aided eye that used infrared film - were sharper and more capable of seeing through disguise.

Dupain's pre-war photography experimented with other optical disintegration effects. His use of double-exposures, where two separate images disintegrate as they blend into each other, produced an effect where the form is immersed in background. This was a technique he later taught soldiers in Papua New Guinea: how the proper use of pattern, colour and shadow, painting the skin and clothes with light and dark, helps bodies to become abstract and dissolve from view.

SCA academic and exhibition co-convener, Dr Ann Elias, will deliver a lecture entitled 'Obliteration: the camouflaged body and photography in modern war' at the Art Gallery of NSW this weekend.

The SCA Camouflage Cultures: Surveillance, Communities, Aesthetics, Animals conference will open on Thursday 8 August and run until 31 August.


Event details

What: Camouflage Cultures: Surveillance, Communities, Aesthetics, Animals exhibition opening

When: 6.30pm, Thursday 8 August, address by Professor Jill Trewhella, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, University of Sydney

Where: Sydney College of the Arts, Rozelle Campus, Balmain Road, Rozelle


What: Camouflage Cultures: Surveillance, Communities, Aesthetics, Animals

When: 6.30 to 7pm, Friday 9 August: opening address by Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor, University of Sydney

7 to 8pm: opening keynote address by Roy R Behrens, Professor of Art & Distinguished Scholar, University of Northern Iowa on 'Khaki to khaki (dust to dust): The ubiquity of camouflage in human experience'


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Media enquiries: Jacqueline Chowns, 02 9036 5404, 0434 605 018, jacqueline.chowns@sydney.edu.au