Conference Abstracts

Friday 9 August

7.00 - 8.00pm
Opening Keynote Address
Roy R. Behrens Prof of Art & Distinguished Scholar, University of Northern Iowa

Khaki to khaki (dust to dust): The ubiquity of camouflage in human experience
If camouflage were only about being invisible, or about resembling something else, it would certainly be significant, but it would not be half as important as it really is. In truth, camouflage tells us about built-in biases of the brain. As zoologist Adolf Portmann wrote, "Camouflage implies a seeing eye from which to hide," and its hosts are those inherent tendencies that enable us–sometimes mistakenly–to conclude that seemingly separate forms are joined or, contrarily, that they stand apart. Without these hard-wired tendencies toward unit making and unit breaking, we could not so easily be deceived by camoufleurs. Or magicians or pickpockets or artists. At the same time, without those same tendencies, we would be incapable of seeing anything–any thing. To use a phrase from William James, we would not even experience "a blooming, buzzing confusion," because we could not distinguish a bloom from a buzz. This essay is an overview of the perceptual organizing tendencies that govern the meaningful patterns we see (or fail to see) in natural settings, in the arts and sciences, military deception, language, humor–and ceaselessly throughout our lives.

Saturday 10 August

4.30 - 6.00pm
Second Keynote Address
Hsuan Hsu, Associate Professor of English, University of California, Davis

Of Mimicry and Hipsters
While studies of colonial and ethnic mimicry have demonstrated the potential of camouflage as a vehicle for critiquing conventional racial and gender stereotypes, they have had less to say about the growing influence of liberal multiculturalism and “post-race” racism. In the context of US urban redevelopment, mimicry plays a key role in appropriating and displacing communities of color as corporations and real estate developers capitalize on the surprising market appeal of qualities such as diversity, irony, and even depersonalization. This paper turns to cultural representations of and by "hipsters" to understand how their mimicry of diverse ethnic groups facilitates gentrification.

Saturday 10 August

Session 1: 10.30am to 1.00pm

Ian McLean

On the mimetic faculty: Appropriation as de-camouflage
Appropriation is the methodology of camouflage, and in appropriation art the object of camouflage is the ego. The best camouflage of the ego is, obviously, other egos - the more or the bigger the better. Imants Tillers, the most exemplary appropriation artist, occupies his canvases with a proliferation of other egos, creating the fractured space of military camouflage. Refusing to make an original image, he liquidates his ego in a mirrored space of multi-vocal discourse in which there is no origin - no single centering author.

Is there really no ego in appropriation art, or is it merely camouflaged? If Tillers gives us one answer, Richard Bell provides another very different one. An appropriationist before he was an artist, Bell has made a successful career as an appropriator of appropriators. Yet this appropriator par excellence not only has as big an ego as anyone in the business, he also makes it his business to impress his ego upon us. His self-proclaimed calling is decamouflage - stripping away the illusions and smashing the mirrors of our racist colonial Ego-Ideal.

Where then is the camouflage in appropriation?

Nikos Papastergiadis

Hiding in Hybridity
Nothing is more visible than our multicultural reality. Nobody denies it but nobody wants to talk about it any more. The generation of artists and activists who put the concept into the public discourse often felt that they had to make many "accommodations' in order to "get it through". Now that it is out why are we so silent, what are we now keeping out of view? In this paper I will argue that the early generation had to repress a part of their cosmopolitan vision in order to achieve minimal policy outcomes. Having succeeded at this limited front they found that there was no longer any space to bring back into view their own cosmopolitan vision. A new generation of artists can take for granted that diversity is now visible, but it is also seen as something that is transparent and therefore invisible. Are we once again hiding in our hybridity?

Linda Tyler

From Ghillie suit to glittering kowhaiwhai - contemporary New Zealand artists deploy the camouflage aesthetic
Either as a homage to Warhol or for its own history as a pattern, contemporary New Zealand artists have recently been using camouflage to interrogate issues of race and identity. In 1999, Andrew McLeod created a uniquely Aotearoan version of the pattern, mixing the woodland and arid colours of traditional camouflage with kowhaiwhai patterns derived from customary Māori art, coining the neologism "camouwhaiwhai" to describe the effect. Ngai Tahu artist Chris Heaphy is interested in the "inevitable change or slippage of meaning of the symbol of camouflage" so that the pattern becomes a chameleon itself. Fellow Māori artists Shane Cotton and Wayne Youle are also interested in the ubiquity of Māori in the armed forces in New Zealand, and use the pattern to denote the hybridized nature of ethnic identities. Georgie Hill appropriates camouflage patterning from its military and male context and deploys it as a strategy of feminine resistance, and concealment.

Ultimately, camouflage pattern seems well-suited to art works with political intent created by Māori artists. Using tactics that include marrying mottle and disruptive patterns with the koru motif, Reuben Paterson (Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Rangitihi) not only uses camouflage as a vehicle for identity politics as a young, urban, gay Māori artist but as a metaphor for post-fiscal envelope politics in New Zealand. With considerable irony, he refers to governmental attempts to reconcile tangata whenua and tangata tiriti by using an aesthetic practice based on optical illusion.

Traditionally an adaptive mechanism to avoid detection and recognition, in the work of these contemporary New Zealand artists, camouflage operates as a Trojan horse, smuggling a message about biculturalism into public consciousness.

Ross Gibson

'Dynamic Modelling and Dynamic Masking'
Over the past twenty years, complexity science and emergence studies have provided insights into the tendency-governed, almost-chaotic qualities that define large portions of everyday reality. Sometimes the dynamic behaviour that these studies monitor are not immediately visible; often the changefulness of complex circumstances occurs under visible surfaces, in qualities of reality that are not optical. The defining and most 'striking' qualities of a real-world system might be found chemical, audible, haptic, morphological or olfactory dynamics, for example, all of which can be noticeable by a range of senses and detection systems, even if they are not reassuringly static or readily visible. To the extent that changefulness characterises much of the contemporary world, and the extent that camouflage is an art for masking certain detectable characteristics of the world, how might 'camouflage-thinking' shape itself to the complex systems and 'changescapes' that host most contemporary actions? To the extent that it is generally agreed that complex-dynamic systems cannot be modelled or comprehensively understood for long durations, what would it mean to develop a camouflage process which effectively masks such systems? What philosophical and aesthetic intelligence do we need for such a challenge?

Session 2: 2.00 to 4.00pm

Donna West Brett

Interventions in seeing: the Cold War camera in the GDR
In 1995, German photographer Arwed Messmer and former East German writer, Annett Gröschner came across rolls of developed 35mm film in the Militärisches Zwischenarchiv in Potsdam. The negatives show the Berlin Wall in the early days of its construction in 1966 when the border troops of the GDR photographed its construction. The films were developed, archived and forgotten. These photographs present a tension between seeing and not seeing as they ‘recall’ a view that was largely unrecorded and was destined to remain invisible and yet reveals the secrecy and invisibility of the Stasi and the border guards. Photography in the Cold War GDR was used to analyse activity along both sides of the Wall, to record attempted escapes and citizens’ daily actions in a way that would define and limit what could or could not be seen in East Germany from 1961 to 1989. The limits to seeing led to various Wall-induced pathologies and various sociologists see the erection of the Wall as violating expectations of normality.

This paper presents an analysis of the ‘unseen’ photographs of the GDR and Stasi archives in terms of Ernst Bloch’s term ‘unseeing’ as a repression of the visible. In a broader sense, these images question the political use of power over what is seen or unseen, thereby bringing sharper critical focus to an astigmatic tendency found in German photography.

Ben Wadham

Unmasking Militarism: Camouflage, Naturalisation, Hegemony
This paper seeks to bring the technologies of camouflage to the field of social theory. The military is the principal institution of state sanctioned violence in contemporary Western democracies, and militarism is ubiquitous in Australian social life. Yet, the military and militarism are not always what they appear to be. We are only exposed to selective elements of this institutions activities and character. For example, the capacity for, and waging of violence is highly naturalised - camouflaged. The violent reality of war is cloaked in the honour of duty, the virtue of sacrifice or the chivalry of protection. Soldiering is represented through the attributes of courage, grit, professionalism or selflessness. In public discourse we are often shocked when various realities of militarism are exposed, for example when defence abuse and sexual predation make media headlines. Feminist scholar Maggie O'Neill argues that through reification subjects are unable to see the cloaked reality of their existence and are thus unable to reconcile themselves with the non-identical nature of social relations. This paper outlines the development of camouflage theory and practice with social theory to explicate the profound naturalisation of the military.

Ian Howard

Camouflage and Artists - Attraction by Deception, for what ends?
Ian Howard, an Australian artist and academic and Colonel Xing Junqin, an official artist of the People's Liberation Army, China, have been working together for more than a decade. Across this cultural and professional divide, surprising similarities exist. Recognising this, their first joint exhibition in Sydney was titled A Bridge Too Far. Xing's and Howard's work variously employs camouflage imagery. This imagery inevitably cross-references art movements of the 20th Century. Xing'scamouflaged landscapes look more like cubists paintings than PLA military strategies. Howard's full scale rubbing of a First World War Mark 1 Male tank is rendered in a colourful hard edge pattern of which a 1960s painter would be proud. Both artists recognize the effectiveness of camouflage patterning standing for something else- visually and militarily. But perhaps more importantly in an era of electronic and undeclared warfare, the limited usefulness of visual camouflage has been replaced by the symbolic effectiveness of 'overt camouflage' in asserting authority, power and control. This paper explores the collaborative work of two artists - Colonel Xing Junqin and Professor Ian Howard whose use of camouflage is both similar and divergent. Working together, from such different cultures, the nature and role of camouflage, as utilised by artists and soldiers, is extended beyond the physical and visual into the conceptual and performative realms.

Sunday 11 August

Session 3: 10.30 to 1.00pm

Edward Colless

The Thing at the End of the Earth
Imagine, as some lunatic indeed has, that the British royal family is not the icon of anachronistic monarchical privilege and sentimentally benign if financially parasitical authority that we see it as manifestly being, but that its members are the disguised vanguard of a reptilian-humanoid extraterrestrial occupation of the earth. The strategy of concealment would be like that of Edgar Allan Poe's purloined letter, which is overlooked by being ironically left in plain and prominent view. Consider also the invasive "thing" in the eponymous movie by John Carpenter from 1982. That "thing" has a pseudo-body with no skin or proper organs of its own. It is an unnameable and unrepresentable contaminant. Even its horrific appearance as the cartilaginous, fuming and coagulating infectious bio-mass sprouting tentacles or spider's legs is not its true form, but the momentary synthesis of whatever it has indiscriminately touched, copulated with and thus incorporated. Like an undercover agent seduced into the heart of darkness, it becomes what it beholds; but its becoming is ceaseless. It reproduces itself as the very enemy it dispossesses, but its enemy is everywhere because it is the enemy of all. In this paper, I consider darkly conjectural shape-shifter phantasms and delusions of cryptozoology - distinct from their metamorphic mythic relatives - that allegedly camouflage their unearthly origins and elude capture through the very signatures of their presence. The footprints of the Yeti or sonar blobs of the Loch Ness monster are like artifacts of fanciful primordial supercivilizations: in a sense, it is the earth itself that camouflages such entities since the earth is the background or absolute of nature into which they disappear; it is their milieu more than it is their mask. To invoke such an ancestral yet alien thing is to invoke the end of the earth.

Pam Hansford

Beyond their Busy Backs I Made a Magic
This paper develops registers taken from camouflage literature to explore the aesthetics of 'skilled revelation of skilled concealment' in the work of three artists, Hany Armanious, Justene Williams and Mikala Dwyer. The three individual practices are aligned to bring two dimensions of the camouflage vernacular into focus: blending to the point of concealment, as in mimicry, assimilation and invisibility; and dazzling, as active confusion and disruption. Such pre-eminent themes of camouflage are used to develop a nuanced approach to specific spiritual, cultural and supernatural themes that have thus far been overlooked.

Tanya Peterson

Light Leak
Taking its cue from Neil Leach's description of camouflage as "a form of connectivity", this paper explores the dynamics of mimicry as a type of kinship. With its focus on notions of the photographic, it also draws on Brian Massumi's ideas of "expanded empiricism" to consider how light, when deployed within certain camouflage strategies, exceeds the logic of vision and creates mutable systems of mimetic reciprocity. Its overall discussion of optics and affect is framed within the context of contemporary photo-based practices, looking primarily at artists working at the intersections of photography and sculpture, and the nature of illusion and materiality.

Jacqueline Millner

According to architect and theorist Neil Leach, 'Camouflage does not entail the cloaking of the self so much as the relating of the self to the world through the medium of representation'. 'The role of camouflage is not to disguise, but to offer a medium through which to relate to the other' (Camouflage, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011). In part, Leach bases his argument on Roger Caillois' observation that creatures at different times wish either to stand out or blend in with their environment and their identity is dependent on this process. Using these ideas as a point of departure, this paper will consider the interface between camouflage, fashion and performance through a case study of the pioneering genre-bending Australian artist Leigh Bowery. Bowery's conflation of self and image, and his delight in 'becoming invisible' during off-show appearances, raises interesting questions about the negotiation of the process of conformity versus standing out that is at the heart of camouflage.

Session 4: 2.00 to 5.00pm

Ann Elias

Zoos and Camouflage
Zoos and camouflage have a complicated history and relationship. As pleasure parks, zoos are skilled at playful deceptions, trompe l'oeil landscapes, simulated environments and imitation nature. That is why camouflage experts in World War Two modeled their work on zoo constructions. But with so much stress on visual excitement even animals can get in the way at zoos; especially when animals don't stand out. Visitors find the greater the success of camouflage the more disappointing the animal. When zoo animals sit motionless, avoid detection through background matching or escape recognition through mimicry, they are not entertaining. 'Where is he? Why doesn't he move? Is he dead?' wrote John Berger in 1980 about children in zoos and their disappointment in animals. The subject of zoos and camouflage embraces biological, aesthetic, and cultural camouflage. This paper addresses animal concealment, discusses zoo trompe l'oeil and its value in wartime, and consider Berger's claim that what is made most visible in zoos is the animals' 'disappearance' from modern life.

Paul D. Brock & Jack W. Hasenpusch

Australian stick and leaf insects (Insecta, Phasmida): Camouflage and nature history
Remarkable camouflage strategies can be found in the nocturnal Australian stick insects Extatosoma tiaratum and Anchiale austrotessulata (both from New South Wales and Queensland) and the leaf insect Phyllium monteithi (northern Queensland). In extreme cases such as drought where the rainforest canopy is sparse, E. tiaratum may vary its shape and colour, at times becoming lichen mimics to better match their surroundings but retaining the ability to return to normal leaf mimics. If disturbed, E. tiaratum use a combination of elaborate defensive strategies, with females adopting an aggressive scorpion-like posture and using spiny hind legs in a pincer action. Newly-hatched nymphs are extremely active and mimic ants.

Stick and leaf insects - known as phasmids - are popular in zoos and butterfly houses for educational purposes, but the public can be disappointed by their camouflage, thinking the insects have 'disappeared' and quickly move on to other displays. In the media, reared phasmids are often photographed in the daytime, in artificial conditions. This paper considers two things: the extraordinary range and methods of phasmid camouflage; and how phasmids are represented in visual form and whether this results in a conflict between the artist and scientist. Do representations accurately reflect the animal's natural behaviour, particularly in relation to camouflage?

Jonnie Morris

Mimicking the masters: A new age for camouflage design
Many striking examples of animal camouflage come from the underwater world of the cephalopods, otherwise known as octopus and cuttlefish. They are arguably the masters of camouflage. Their dynamic control of light, edges, texture, contrast and colouration, enable them to switch from blending to disruptive modes of camouflage in a matter of seconds. Roger Hanlon, senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, studies the skin of cephalopods to better understand how such dramatic changes are made. Despite his observations that camouflage is the "least studied subject in biology that we think we already know about", Hanlon has uncovered the secret world of the cephalopod's "electric skin", and is drawing connections with how their skin transformation can inspire human technology.

This paper discusses how the natural world influences human camouflage design, and provides examples such as technologies based on dynamic cephalopod skin. How can these natural forms benefit society, future technology, military culture, architecture and fashion? The science of bio-mimicry enables us to look at the most streamlined and efficient 'blueprints' in nature in order to replicate them for our own design uses in art, science, and technology.

Bernd Hüppauf

The devil in the frog. Camouflaging the evil
Frogs belong among the animals that have developed physical strategies of camouflage. Body shapes and colors are designed to make them invisible by adapting the animals optically to their biological environment. Yet other frogs have bodies with the opposite effect. They have aggressive colors, mostly intensive red, in order to repel predators. This is the frog looked at with an eye informed by a Darwinian concept of evolution, a product of nature. For hundreds of years, however, the frog was a different animal. It belonged in a metaphysical order and, from the 12th century on, its body was a hiding place for the devil. In Christian Europe the devil was perceived as a fallen angel with a deformed body, and the frog was perceived as a deformed human body that provided a natural place for camouflaging the idea of evil. Its close relatives were the snake, scorpion, lizard, basilisk and other creatures that were part of the family of the evil animals causing fear and horror that led to their persecution. In the early modern age the evil was replaced by another characteristic of the devil, the ugly, and from the 16th century on, the frog's body became the incarnation of the idea of ugliness that caused idiosyncratic responses, revolt and disgust. In our own present, the frog's body is yet again the hiding place for a cultural idea. It has been transformed from the place of fear and nausea to an environmentalists' animal that is endangered by civilization, industry, and pollution in the same way human life is menaced. Its body is no longer seen as a place of camouflaging the devil but as a mute sign in the language of nature warning every-one who can read that the future of life on earth is threatened. The frog is now engaged as an ally in the struggle for survival, idolized and cared for not dissimilar to the handsome prince that once emerged after the princess's attempt to kill the ugly creature.