Sunday, January 31, 2010

Le Corbusier as Camoufleur

First, one of our favorite passages from Peter DeVries, The Tunnel of Love (NY: Penguin, 1982)—

I imagined myself asking her whether she liked Le Corbusier, and her replying, "Love some, with a little Benedictine if you've got it."

Beyond that, there's a reference to Le Corbusier's use of camouflage in Jonneke Jobse, De Stijl Continued: The Journal Structure (1958-1964): An Artist's Debate (010 Publishers:2005), p. 175—

He [Le Corbusier] described his use of polychromy as "architectural camouflage." By giving walls, ceilings and floors their own color, and modulating the space by means of contrasting colors for doors, windows, cabinets and fireplaces, he accented or disguised certain parts of the structure, thus creating the visual structure he was aiming for.

Architectural Camouflage Unit

Since August 2009, there has been an on-going course called Camouflage: AA Intermediate Unit 6 at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. The course instructors are Jonathan Daws, Dagobert Bergmans and Fumiko Kato (see Flowspace Architecture). The unit will conclude in February 2010 with an exhibition called Camouflage: A Catalogue of Effects, views of which are posted there. The site is particularly interesting if you link to the entire contents of the course blog and browse through its earlier postings. The effects that the students came up with are fascinating, especially in relation to the anamorphic warping of two-dimensional or three-dimensional surfaces, making them appear to be the opposite of what they "really" are. The results are not dissimilar from certain examples of World War I-era dazzle ship camouflage, as well as the distorted room interiors and other shapes that were originated by American artist and optical physiologist Adelbert Ames II in the 1930s-50s.

Dali: Submarines and Sardines

From Salvador Dali, "Total Camouflage for Total War" in Esquire Vol 18 No 2 (August), 1942—

Some young sardines are making their first outing under the supervision of their parents. A submarine passes by. The little fishes, alarmed, question their father:

"Papa, what's that?"

"That, my children, is our revenge which is passing: a great tin made of sheet-iron in which men, covered in oil, are held inside, pressed against each other."

Martha Banta on Protective Disguise

From Martha Banta, Imaging American Women: Idea and Ideals in Cultural History (NY: Columbia University Press, 1987), pp. 221-222—

By the close of the nineteenth century new forms of protective, ceremonial disguise had come into play—methods for altering appearance that concealed identities and revealed presences, and that acted to repress particulars of individuality in order to emphasize associations with type. Some of these forms became means for self-protection. One such was the technique of camouflage that found favor in the art world prior to its adoption by the military during World War I.

Day-Glo Camouflage

From Paola Antonelli, Safe: Design Takes on Risk (NY: Museum of Modern Art, 2005), p. 42—

In 2004 a group protesting against fox hunting evaded security and broke into the hallowed corridors of the British House of Commons' debating chamber. They did so wearing fluorescent jackets and, when questioned by a policeman, they simply explained they were going to inspect the electrical system. In his book Invisible (2005), the British photographer Stephen Gill photographed people whose clothing made them invisible. They were not wearing the latest Hussein Chalayan creation, but rather "high-visibility" jackets. These Day-Glo, fluorescent jackets, with their retroreflective stripes, are designed to protect workers night and day on roads, railway lines, and building sites. It is ironic that in trying to make them ultravisible, these workers are instead rendered invisible. We are so accustomed to seeing workers in these jackets that we remove them from our radar. In the photographer's [Stephen Gill's] own experience, if he wears a fluorescent jacket, he can move and photograph where he likes. No one pays any attention to him.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ann Elias on Max Dupain

Max Dupain (1911-1992) was a Modern-era Australian photographer who—along with zoologist William Dakin and other scientists, artists and designers—formed the Sydney Camouflage Group in 1939. During World War II, while attached to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), he made contributions to aerial photography and photo-analysis. Dupain's involvement in camouflage, in relation to his other work, is discussed in considerable detail in Ann Elias, "Camouflage and the Half-Hidden History of Max Dupain in War" in History of Photography Vol 13 No 4 (November 2009), pp. 370-382. Here are two brief excerpts—

Of all these approaches and styles [in Dupain's pre-war photography] it was surrealism that was closest to a camouflage way of thinking. Surrealist techniques such as simulation to mimic reality, dissimulation to decompose reality and metamorphosis to transform reality were all designed to put the viewer's certainty of sight and powers of reasoning into question. They are also basic techniques of military camouflage where the objective is to use visual surprise and disorientation for military gain. Like surrealist art, camouflage is designed to unsettle the senses and subvert the hegemony of vision. (p. 373)

After the war he [Dupain] said that he did not want to return to the "cosmetic lie" of fashion photography. But it was probably also the case that his deep involvement and later dissatisfaction with military camouflage, a practice that has been characterized as the cosmetic lie of warfare, contributed to this desire for clarity and honesty. The whole purpose of camouflage is to confuse and negate optical clarity and its objective is to trick, deceive, keep secret, dazzle, to hide weakness and conceal strength. One translation of the French term camouflage is the act of putting on make-up for theatre. (p. 378)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Wildlife Camouflage

Given that protective coloration in nature and military camouflage make use of the same perceptual tendencies, it may come as no surprise that a number of zoological illustrators also served as camoufleurs in World Wars I and II. Among them were British scientists Alister Hardy and Hugh B. Cott, both of whom wrote and illustrated their own books on the appearance of animals, while both also served in the British Army as camouflage experts. But there were other naturalists and wildlife illustrators who contributed to camouflage, including Bruno Liljefors, Abbott Handerson Thayer, Gerald Handerson Thayer, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Francis Lee Jaques, Arthur Singer, and Roger Tory Peterson. According to Douglas Carlson, Roger Tory Peterson (University of Texas Press, 2007), pp. 108-109—

After his six-month training period [c1943], he [Peterson] was assigned to Engineer School. His first task was to work on a camouflage manual; as his discharge papers noted, he "illustrated camouflage practices and mistakes, sample problems and other phases of camouflage." In Peterson's words, the manuals were about "simple camouflage where the individual soldier made use of cast shadows or eliminated cast shadows." He also made color, black-and-white, and half-tone illustrations…In a 1944 letter to friend and fellow bird painter George Sutton, he wrote about his army art department: "twenty enlisted men, all of them very accomplished and at least four of which made $20,000 a year or more as nationally known illustrators…"

Friday, January 15, 2010

Figure-Ground in Nature

In Diana Donald and Jane Munro, eds., Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2009), there is a wonderful essay by Diana Donald and Jan Eric Olsen titled "Art and the 'Entangled Bank': Color and Beauty out of the 'War of Nature'" (pp. 100-117). It traces the influence on zoological illustration of a passage in Darwin's Origin of Species in which he refers to natural settings as "entangled bank[s]." As the authors point out, this gradually prompted illustrators, including the designers of museum dioramas, to represent natural entities not as "a static and detached representation of each species," but rather as "a world characterized by constant flux and completing forces," with ceaseless interactive shifts between figure and ground.

This was a great departure from the wildlife illustration styles of artists like John James Audubon and Ernest Thompson Seton, in whose work clarity and species identification were of prime importance, making explicit distinctions between the subject and its setting. In contrast, in the view of artists such as American painter and naturalist Abbott Handerson Thayer and Swedish painter Bruno Liljefors (both of whom were greatly interested in natural camouflage, called protective coloration then), animals should be portrayed as embedded in their natural setting, in which case they may not be easy to see. An especially vivid example of this second approach is the astonishing painting by Thayer's son (Gerald Handerson Thayer) of a male Ruffed Grouse in the forest, which was initially published as Colorplate 2 in the latter's influential book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909/1918).

It was this difference in approach to bird illustration that led to a painful complication in the friendship between the Abbott Thayer and one of his most devoted followers, illustrator Louis Agassiz Fuertes. At the time (this was near the end of Thayer's life, in the years when his theories were being attacked by Theodore Roosevelt and others), the young Fuertes was making his living as a bird illustrator for major publishers, who had found that the books were more popular when they maintained the tradition of Audubon, Seton and so on. Repeatedly, in letters, Thayer pleaded with Fuertes to acknowledge in his paintings the importance of protective coloration (of figure-ground entanglement), and when Fuertes could not do that (for reasons of livelihood presumably), Thayer began to regard it as a subversion of his own teachings. For more on Fuertes and Thayer, see Mary Fuertes Boynton [his daughter], Louis Agassiz Fuertes: His Life Briefly Told and His Correspondence (NY: Oxford University Press, 1956).

Art and Camouflage in Spain

I have just seen the catalog for Camuflajes, a major exhibition of camouflage-related art that premiered last fall at La Casa Encendida in Madrid, Spain. Curated by Maite Mendez (author of Camuflaje, 2008) and Pedro Pizarro, the exhibit ran initially from September 17 through November 1, 2009. Judging from the rich selection of color images in its beautifully-produced catalog (the text is in Spanish only), it was surely a stunning, instructive event. It is a panoply of experimental works in which artists from throughout the world explore the implications of camouflage, often in the broadest sense. Among those represented are Agrela Angeles, Jose Ramon Amondarain, Eleanor Antin, Liu Bolin, Manuel Cerda, Pietroiusti Cesare, Chema Cobo, Monica Duncan, Lalla Essaydi, Leo Fabrizio, Adonis Flores, Joan Fontcuberta, Alfredo Jaar,  Laurent La Gamba, Rogelio Lopez Cuenca, Maider Lopez, Carmen Mariscal, Laura Mars, Mateo Mate, Carlos Miranda, Ottonello Mocellin, Sonia La Mur, Juan Luis Moraza, Yasumasa Morimura, Lara Odell, Harvey Opgenorth, Ria Pacquee, Desiree Palmen, Domingo Sanchez Blanco, Cesare Viel, Francesca Woodman, and Gina Zacharias.

Beginning January 21, 2010, the same exhibition will also be featured at the Espacio para el Arte Zaragoza in Zaragoza, Spain, continuing through March 31, and then later this year in Malaga.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Dazzle Camouflage at Cincinnati

An original exhibition titled SEAGOING EASTER EGGS: Artists' Contributions to Dazzle Ship Camouflage will open soon at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Curated by Roy R. Behrens (author of FALSE COLORS: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002) and CAMOUPEDIA: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009)), the exhibition will be held at the Convergys Gallery at the Art Academy at 1212 Jackson Street, from January 15, 2010 through February 12.

The exhibit is free and open to the public during gallery hours: Mon-Fri 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, and Sat-Sun 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

In addition, Professor Behrens will present a slide talk about art and camouflage at 7:00 pm, Thursday, January 28 in the Proctor and Gamble Lecture Hall at the Art Academy, an event sponsored by the Cincinnati AIGA. On Friday, January 29, there will be a reception in the gallery from 5:00 to 9:00 pm.

Included in the exhibit are photographs, camouflage diagrams, ship models and other historic artifacts that pertain to contributions by artists, designers and architects to World War I US naval camouflage, particularly dazzle camouflage. It is dedicated to the memories of Meyer Abel, Walter Arnett, and Noel Martin, all of whom attended the Art Academy, then served in World War II as camouflage artists.

The exhibit was made possible in part by access to materials in the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Everett L. Warner Archives. Other material was provided by Lyn Malone, the granddaughter of architect and Olympic fencer Harold Van Buskirk, who headed American naval camouflage in World War I. The ship models, which were cast for this exhibit by German manufacturer Norbert Broecher, were donated by Ulrich Rudofsky.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Caligari's Camouflage

From Steen Eiler Rasmussen, Experiencing Architecture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1964), p. 94—

For most people the Cubist camouflage [of WWI] was a demonstration of visual effects they had never seen before. But by the time the war was over everybody was familiar with them and new experiments with Cubist forms were made in architecture as well as other arts. One of these was the German film Dr. Caligari's Cabinet, made in 1919, in which the action takes place inside the brain of a lunatic where all forms are disintegrated into crooked triangles and other weird shapes. Buildings too were constructed with bizarre lines and shapes.

Camouflaged Tweens

From JoAnn Deak, Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters (NY: Hyperion, 2002), p. 99—

[Preadolescent girls, called tweens] cluster together and need to act alike, talk alike, and look alike for the protective camouflage it provides. It reminds me of a Discovery Channel program about running zebras: The stripes made them all blend together so that any predatory animal would have a hard time singling out any one zebra.

Charlie Chaplin's Camouflage

There is a six-minute segment in a Charlie Chaplin film that pokes fun of the trickery of  WWI American camouflage artists in France. The film, a silent comedy called Shoulder Arms, was released in October 1918, just as the war was ending. There is more information here, and there's also a helpful description of it in Kenneth Schuyler Lynn, Charlie Chaplin and His Times (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1997), pp. 222-223—

For reconnoitering purposes, Chaplin encases himself in papier-mache bark and becomes a tree. His camouflage enables him to position himself near three German soldiers who happen by and start to build a campfire. Inevitably, they find that they need more wood. One of them grabs an ax and volunteers to get some. After taking a healthy lick or two at another tree, he decides that he prefers the looks of the Charlie-tree. Terrified but resolute, Charlie knocks the ax-wielder out with a sneak blow from one of his branchlike arms and similarly disposes of his two companions. While still camouflaged, he then saves the life of an American sergeant who has been apprehended for spying…

Friday, January 1, 2010

Camouflage Artist | C. Allan Gilbert

In his own lifetime, C. Allan Gilbert (1873-1929) was a widely published American illustrator, as well as an early contributor to animated films. Today, he would probably not be remembered at all were it not for the continued popularity of one of his illustrations, a momento mori titled All is Vanity (1892). It is a double image or visual pun in which the scene of a woman admiring herself in a mirror appears instead to be a skull, when viewed from a distance. During World War I, he was among a number of US artists who worked for the US Shipping Board (the Emergency Fleet Corporation) in applying dazzle camouflage to US merchant ships.

In 1918, in Nauticus: A Journal of Shipping, Insurance, Investments and Engineering (Vol 1 No 2, June 8), there is a note about the role of the US Navy in relation to the work of Gilbert and other civilian camoufleurs:

Supervision of all camouflaging of merchant vessels for the Shipping Board will be exercised by the Navy Department in the future…"The Navy Department will prepare the types and designs of camouflage painting for general use and, where practicable, design of camouflage painting applicable to particular ships. These design will be furnished the district camoufleurs through the Camouflage Section, Division of Steel Ship Construction of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. The district camoufleur will use the design most applicable to the form and type of ship to be camouflage painted. The district camoufleur shall not change the principle of the design furnished by the Navy Department, but may adopt such design to suit the particular ship which is being camouflage painted."

Camouflage Poem | Paul Myron

"Camouflage and Camoufleur" in P.W. Linebarger (Paul Myron, pseud), Bugle Rhymes from France (Chicago: Mid-Nation Publishers, 1918), p. 35-36—

Uncle Sam is looking night and day, for a thousand men mechanical;
He wants 'em with their brushes and he wants 'em with their paint,
And he wants 'em, though with union rules tyrannical;
For he's in an awful hole…the Staff cannot control,
In a fix that may bring annihilation,
For he's got a million men, and then a few again,
Yet, no ca-moo-flurs, for the combination.
Lord, why didn't some one say, advisin' like a fool,
That "The war's to be won, not by the gun,
But by mechanical men, with a tool."

By mechanical men with a tool, sir.
Who can make the foe out a fool, sir.
In paintin' mirage an' green camouflage,
On the rollin' Atlantic pool, sir.

So come on, ye heroes of the day, ready with yer brush and yer turpentine,
Bring on yer canvas, yet metal and yer sheet,
An' wallop out a scence more serpentine.
Just paint this transport blue, with an ocean swell or two,
That 'ud fool any submarine commander.
And on our sectors there, paint a waste of desert air,
That will make the planes go flyin' by in dander;
For, shucks…this war is yours, on a steady union scale,
For it's all to be won, with paint…not gun,
For it's ca-moo-flage, that makes the Prussian quail.

It's ca-moo-flage that wins today, sir,
Painting' ships a tender whale-grey, sir.
A hundred batteries, it turns to grass an' trees;
It's never for a moment known to fail, sir.

Vive Camouflage! It is a hero's game, when once we've got it specified.
But there's just a little item, I hope it won't affect,
When we've got it all right rectified;
And that's the use of paint, to make Old Nick a saint,
And hide the "pro" and "slack" against the nation;
For camouflage is for just the foreign end of war,
And not to cause at home our consternation.
So, Mister Camoufleur, 'fore ye sail on foreign tour,
Just stripe each "slack" and "pro" a color that we'll know,
And rub his yellow deep, to make it sure.

Henrietta Goodden on British Camouflage

Henrietta Goodden, Camouflage and Art: Design for Deception in World War 2. London: Unicorn Press, 2007. Hardcover, 120 illustrations, color and b&w. 192 pp. ISBN 987-0-906290-87-3.

The current heightened interest in camouflage can be at least partly attributed to Charles Darwin. In The Origin of Species, first published in 1859, he hypothesized that the evolution of species occurs not through divine intervention but by autonomous natural selection, and that the likelihood of survival is weighed in favor of those that are better fitted than others. By the turn of the century, the study of natural camouflage (known then as "protective coloration") had become a research playground for the confirmation (or refutation) of Darwin's theories. Knowing that, it is of additional interest to find (as this book documents) that one of the chief participants in wartime British camouflage was Robin Darwin (1910-1974), a painter and descendant of the famous naturalist. More