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

The technical advancements of the First World War, particularly in the realms of aviation and photography, enabled the development of war strategies used for covert reconnaissance. Through spy missions by air, countless photos were taken of the front and spliced into panorama-like aerial maps that were updated throughout the war. Even before aircraft were capable of transporting bombs, their view from above posed an inherent threat. These new technical conditions fundamentally transformed military strategy and necessitated a large-scale camouflage protocol during the First World War. To this end, specialized camouflage units were established by every national army active during the war. These new units recruited artists, especially painters and set designers. Experimental techniques from the avant-garde movement, and usually denounced as rather unpatriotic, were now enlisted for patriotic purposes. The shattering of hitherto unambiguous perspectives, the disruption of forms and contours, the melding of form and surface, and other such techniques created by artists for the stage, were adapted and implemented by the military for its war-time efforts. Techniques of deception, illusion, masking and costume, so prevalent in the theater, acquired newfound importance in the illusory settings created by camouflage, dummies, and other forms of pretense during the war. In the Second World War even magicians were called upon, as illusionists par excellence, to make entire cities disappear. This dissertation explores the influence of artistic methods, questions, techniques, and experimental procedures on the development of camouflage in the domain of war, otherwise considered far-removed from that of the artist. It thus enquires into the extent to which ateliers were used as laboratories for the war.  The project further examines the specific concept of landscape as reflected in the camouflage techniques from both World Wars, a concept that seems to underlie the wars but that is also ravaged by them. In this respect, the landscape of war demands an interpretative analysis that pays attention to the dynamics of spatial constructions, and how they impact those involved – the soldiers, the spectators, the architects, and the manipulators – as well as the memories of those afflicted by war.

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