The Hidden Visible: A background to the art and science of camouflage
Regardless of whether the context is military, biological, or social, the term ‘camouflage’ applies to strategies of concealment and deception. It was, though, through military history, rather than biology or sociology, that ‘camouflage’ became part of Australian consciousness. Central to the military story of camouflage in Australia is modern art, and the application of abstraction, cubism and surrealism to the dynamics of the visible and invisible in the military landscape. This presentation considers the art and science of camouflage as it emerged in the first half of the Twentieth Century, the story of Australian camouflage in the context of American and British histories, and the roots of camouflage in the colouration of animals, in the strategies of art, and in war and military weaponry where art and biological science meet.
Ann Elias is Associate Professor in Critical Studies at Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney. Research fields include Australian modernism, camouflage as a social and aesthetic phenomenon, flowers and their cultural history, and early underwater photography, including of the Great Barrier Reef. Books include Camouflage Australia: art, nature, science and war (2011) and Useless Beauty: flowers and Australian art (2015). In preparation is a book for Duke Press on representations of the underwater at the colonial tropics in the early twentieth century.
Image: Max Dupain’s camouflage experiment at Bankstown aerodrome, c.1943. (Photograph National Archives of Australia)