By Tory Crabtree
Camouflage is not just about Army issue cargo pants, polychromatic octopuses, or covering yourself with leaves and claiming to be a tree. Combine the dark arts of deception and concealment and you start to delve into an elusive world.
“Camouflage is a concept that is very adaptable,” says Associate Professor Ann Elias, co-curator of the Camouflage Cultures exhibition. “It is about concealing and revealing. When you reveal something, it is often concealing something else; an endless play on the concept of knowing but not knowing.”
Dr Elias, together with colleague Nicholas Tsoutas, of the Sydney College of the Arts, has worked with 11 local and international artists to put together the exhibition. Inspired by research for her book, Camouflage Australia, the exhibition explores the many types of camouflage in the world around us.
Sydney-based artist Maria Cardoso has created sculptures that illustrate camouflage in the animal world. On closer inspection, a barren branch is a collection of stick insects. A tree with orange leaves reveals itself to be covered in butterflies.
“I like the works where the viewers are involved, where they are drawn in and surprised,” said Tom Sawkins, 19, a student at the Sydney College of the Arts.
Camouflage in the human world is most often seen as military disguise, and this is a theme in several exhibits. Double Field / Viewfinder (Tarin Kowt) 2010 is a video by Shaun Gladwell, an Australian contemporary artist who works in video, painting and photographs. Filmed in the desert by two serving soldiers, it shows the effectiveness of their camouflaged outfits, as well as the arid bleakness of the desert war environment.
The exhibition also explores the non-military aspect of camouflage. In Wallpaper Cockatoos, Emma Hack, a skin illustrator, painted a model from head to toe to perfectly match a black and white example of a Florence Broadhurst wallpaper. Emma’s work suggests the human instinct to blend in with the surrounding, and not be out of place.
Similarly the painting Sorry by Debra Dawson hints at the camouflage that can be found in spoken words. Her painting shows the word ‘sorry,’ but only from certain angles. Step to the side and the word disappears into the blue grey background surrounding it, as if it was never there.
The Camouflage Cultures exhibition took two years to put together, and explores the subtle art of camouflage and its role in the modern world. It is on at the Rozelle campus of the Sydney College of Art until 31 August 2013.