On 3 June at the Sydney College of the Arts, UNSW Art & Design Dean Professor Ross Harley was one of three editors launching their book Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the Art of Disappearance (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2015). Fellow editors, Associate Professor Ann Elias and Nicholas Tsoutas, both from the SCA, have been developing the collection of essays for several years.

Camouflage Cultures offers new perspectives on the roles that physical, artistic and social camouflage play in contemporary life. Camouflage is often associated with military and natural history, but growing interest in the connections between the areas of ecology, evolution, visual deception and warfare has taken the concept of camouflage beyond the politics of appearance, and simple strategies of mimicry.

“One of the great examples is the contribution on stick insects which I’m particularly interested in,” explains Harley. ‘Animals like the stick insect teach us a lot about what could happen in culture. Another chapter considers how natural camouflage can contribute to the development of new designs and technologies.

Harley was invited to co-edit the book following his involvement in the international conference Camouflage Cultures: Surveillance, Communities, Aesthetics, Animals organized by Elias and Tsoutas in 2013.

The accompanying exhibition explored artistic responses to camouflage and disappearance. It included work by Art & Design alumni Shaun Gladwell, Robyn Bracken (Master of Fine Arts), and Ian Howard, the previous Dean of Art & Design. 

The substantial interdisciplinary scholarship underpining Camouflage Cultures is testament to the dynamic research culture at UNSW Art & Design and SCA. Camouflage Cultures approaches this subject from the disciplines of art history and theory, art practice, biology, cultural theory, literature and philosophy. 

As Ross Harley explains, “The art world is still learning about the significance of camouflage. A key element of this anthology is what can we learn from the sciences and vice versa. Many of the contributors to the book consider how natural and cultural systems use camouflage not just to blend in, but sometimes as a strategy of disappearance. When artists start to play with these ideas there’s a feedback loop.”

Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the Art of Disappearance is available from University of Sydney Press