Research: Camouflage

  • Article
Camouflage, Performativity and our identities

Camouflage, derived from the natural survival strategies of animals, has been seen as a visual representation of environmental adaptations. Since World War II, camouflage has had significant application and development in the military field. In recent years, increasingly complex issues raised in societies have made the goal of camouflage more than just blending into a specific natural environment. Obtaining an identity in a particular group is a goal that the human camouflage expects to achieve in society. Foucault identified the self as being defined by a continuing discourse in shifting oneself to others. Camouflage is no longer only a static visual image. Instead, it grows the characteristic of communication and gradually develops into dynamic interactions. Butler extends the idea of identity construction by arguing that the maintenance of a particular identity depends on the exchange between individuals and social practices, a process known as “performativity.” (Butler, 520) This paper explores the history and development of camouflage and its diverse forms of expression in today’s social context and design work. It examines how performativity contributes to communications through camouflage, helping people establish appropriate identities in specific contexts.

Survival rates of species can be raised in proper environments by animals changing their skin color and patterns. Darwin’s theory of evolution makes this a well-recognized opinion that individuals with physical characteristics best suited to their environment are more likely to survive, find food, avoid predators, and resist disease. (Darwin 1859, p.492) Animals have multiple visual strategies to blend into the environment, such as peacock flounder can change its pattern and colors to match its environment. They create a visual illusion through the strategies of coloration, illumination, and motion dazzle to blur individual spatial existence.

Artists originally applied such visual expressions to painting work and greatly developed this visual communication following the idea of cubism. It also made connections with Gestalt psychological theories such as Proximity (camouflage allows the observer to group visually similar things) and Good Continuation (camouflage can break down the inherent contours of the body and diminish the observer’s ability to judge). (“Gestalt Principles”) Gestalt’s principles are now widely used in UX and UI fields. Later, artists explored the relationship between the social environment and the body by applying the basic visual idea of camouflage to performance art and body painting. The publications for its social and cultural applications and artwork dedicated to this subject steadily increase. The concept of the body has always kept a close relationship with camouflage.

At the same time, the connection between body and identity has become intimate with the development of technology. The Jamaican writer and cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter thinks the west uses biologized terms such as race, and gender to define the modern human and social groups. The focus of “becoming a man” has gradually changed from a religious perspective to a rational one and then a biological one. (Wynter, 264) During the COVID-19 pandemic, the intensified social surveillance and physical testing also urged people to associate social activities with their bodies from another aspect. A person’s vaccine certification and a person’s travel trajectory are both indispensable parts of today’s identity.

Because camouflage is naturally associated with the physical properties of the body, it seems that camouflage can find more significant soil in the current society and exert its communication value. The application of camouflage can also develop into various forms of existence by prevalent social issues today, such as feminism, colonialism, consumerism. The development of camouflage has gone beyond the original visual pattern and has been broadly defined as performative behaviors on different occasions. In terms of materiality, with the construction of a digital society, the development of AR and VR technologies has given camouflage more digital cultural context and digital existence.

1.The Traditional Camouflage

2.Multi-sense Camouflage

3.Camouflage and Social image

4.Camouflage and Behaviours

5.Digital Camouflage

6.The Future