Revealing elective affinities: camouflage in art and music

29 August 2012

This sketch of Shostakovich exemplifies the crossover between art, music and camouflage.
This sketch of Shostakovich exemplifies the crossover between art, music and camouflage.

The importance of camouflage in music and art will be explored in a free performance seminar at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (Recital Hall East) this Thursday 30 August.

Associate Professor Ann Elias, from the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), will discuss camouflage and its importance in art. Her lecture will be followed by a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's String Quartet No 8 arranged for string orchestra.

This quartet is directed by violinist Goetz Richter, an Associate Professor at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (SCM), and is performed by musicians from the SCM. Shostakovich's confronting work was written in 1960 and contains multiple levels of meaning and aesthetic possibilities that simultaneously conceal and reveal the composer's intentions.

The lecture-performance is part of an ongoing project of interdisciplinary enquiry into music, aesthetics and philosophy lead by Associate Professor Richter at the Conservatorium of Music.

Commenting about this meeting of art and music, Dr Richter, a philosopher and musician, says: "The concept of camouflage is philosophically extremely significant. We are not always aware that musicians conceal their artistic messages and we do not always understand how and why they do it.

"The 'elective affinities' that music establishes with other disciplines, including art, affords opportunities to explore the intricacies of each discipline more effectively. The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe exposes the possibility of a methodology which reveals truth and development through association and affinity."

Dr Richter adds: "Other thinkers, including the sociologist Max Weber and the philosopher of music, Theodor Adorno, have relied on this thinking, which has its roots in the practices of alchemy."

Dr Ann Elias, an associate professor of theoretical enquiry at the SCA, researches Australian art and visual culture, including the concept and examples of camouflage, and the intersection of disciplines between art and science. Her research is included in major international journals including Leonardo, and her book Camouflage Australia: Art, Nature, Science and War was published by Sydney University Press in 2011.

Dr Elias comments: "Rich in history, aesthetic possibility, political suggestion and metaphor, camouflage also expresses the nature of life. Strategies and acts of blending, assimilation, invisibility, disruption, mimicry, and masking proliferate today in art, society and war.

"Camouflage crosses boundaries of human and animal, traverses disciplines of military science, biology, anthropology and sociology. And at the intersections of discourse it provokes innovative thought and practice".

Event details

What: Elective Affinities: Camouflage, a lecture by Associate Professor Ann Elias, Sydney College of the Arts, followed by a performance of Shostakovich, String Quartet No 8 (arr. String Orchestra), directed by Associate Professor Goetz Richter

When: 6.30pm, Thursday 30 August

Where: Recital Hall East, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Bridge Street, Sydney. See map and directions

Cost: Free, no bookings required

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