Camouflage. Reading Landscape in Theater, Art, and War 1914–1945

The technical advancements during the First World War, particularly those in aviation and photography, made systematic espionage a viable war strategy for the first time. Air reconnaissance produced countless photos that were combined to create panorama-like aerial maps of the front’s entire landscape, maps that were continuously updated over the course of the war. Even before aircraft were technologically capable of transporting bombs, their view from above posed an inherent threat. These new technical preconditions led to fundamental transformations in military strategy and, during the First World War, necessitated the wide-spread implementation and use of camouflage. This resulted in all warring parties establishing specialized camouflage units. For these new units, the armies specifically recruited artists, especially painters and set designers. Suddenly, the experimental techniques of the avant-garde movement, techniques that were previously denounced as rather unpatriotic, could be put to good use in the name of patriotism: Following their implementation in contemporary arts, techniques such as the breaking-up of clear, unambiguous perspectives, the dissolution of forms and contours, and the merging of form and surface were made part of the war effort and adapted for military purposes. Theatrical techniques of deception, illusion, masking, and costume also had an important influence on camouflage, forming something of a war scenery consisting of dummies and other illusionary pretenses. During the Second World War, even magicians were consulted to make entire cities disappear.

This dissertation project explored the ways in which artistic practices, techniques, and experimental procedures influenced the war, a domain so far removed from art, through the development and introduction of camouflage. To what extent were artists’ studios used as laboratories for military technology? The project also examined the specific concept and imagination of landscape as reflected in the camouflage techniques during both World Wars, a concept that serves as a basis to these wars while also being broken up in the wake of international conflict. Here, the landscape of war proved to be a highly dynamic spatial structure in great need of interpretation, a spatial structure that occurs between the various parties involved—the soldiers, the observers, the designers, manipulators, and those who bear the memory.  

ZfL Doctoral Fellowship 2014–2016
Head researcher(s): Hannah Wiemer


Hannah Wiemer

Landschaftslektüren zwischen Theater, Kunst und Krieg 1914–1945

De Gruyter, Berlin 2020, 304 pages
ISBN 978-3-11-065223-9





04 Jun 2015 · 2.00 pm

Hannah Wiemer: Deceiving the Enemy – Educating the Senses for War. The Camouflage School of the Royal Engineers in Kensington Gardens 1916–18

eikones NFS Bildkritik, Rheinsprung 11, 4051 Basel

read more