Leo Selvaggio

Camouflage repels “evil” gazes. In this game of concealing and revealing, identity and non-identity and over-identity, of the real and the unreal, camouflage just will not relinquish its “excessive” magical function, which both attracts and repels in a sort of a deeper experiential sense, just as it both attracts and repels looks.

The article investigates the relationship between social control and camouflage in contemporary conditions of new visibility from the perspective of digitalisation of photographic image and its increased integration into military and surveillance technologies. The author investigates the play of visibility and invisibility, of hiding and exposing, implied in traditional understanding of camouflage under the changed conditions of referentiality and visibility through a number of examples, ranging from surveillance projects aimed at preventing human rights violations to the military use of drones and artistic projects that either critique the new means of social control, or offer strategies of resistance to individuals.

Once we understand camouflage as a fully vital phenomenon that cannot be reduced to a strategic-tactical game among antagonists, we can appreciate how the camouflaging animal (or human) enacts a liminal space.

Usually, camouflage is interpreted within the frame of deceitful communication. Scholars have mainly provided accounts of camouflage based on strategic-tactical sign emissions within the frame of ecological competition. The dominant key is one of antagonism and belligerence, whereby camouflage and camouflage detection are described as a ‘semiotic arms race’. These views are grounded in a utilitarian means/ends scheme of either strategic or tactical nature. By contrast, in this piece, I invite to conceptualise camouflage as the temptation of relation. Approaching camouflage as a specifically social temptation suggests regarding it as something that inherently exists beyond the functional domain. Three illustrations from the art world of photography are provided: Leo Selvaggio’s URME Surveillance Project, Arno Rafael Minkkinen’s Continental Divide, and Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 5.


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