the Camoufleurs: Blind, Creeping, Surveillance

For the 2008 Art Encampment on Bumpkin Island in Boston Harbor, the Camoufleurs (Etienne Benson, Dan Hisel, and Hanna Rose Shell, along with collaborators Andrea Campbell, Christine Dennett, Alexander Diez, and Colin Kennedy) explored the practice of camouflage in dialogue with the local environment of the Island.

In the late 19th century photographers began deploying blinds, structures long used by hunters to conceal themselves from their prey. They appropriated natural materials from their environment--including grasses, brush, vines, and mud--to blend into their surroundings. The more they were hidden the more they could see. With the rise of ground and aerial surveillance during World War I, the military began using similar techniques. Strategically sighted at the high point of Bumpkin Island, BLIND echoes the military installations of Fort Revere at which it is aimed across the harbor, while also mirroring the immediate landscape. This project uses contemporary materials to create a place of reflection - a pavilion for observation and concealment. Sheets of reflective Mylar stretched across a metal framework produced a rectangular structure nearly 17 feet long, 7 feet high and 4 feet wide that mirrored the sky, water, and vegetation around it and created an inner space of reflection. Billowing in the wind, the structure disrupted visual patterns, cast blinding rays of sunlight in unpredictable directions and sent wavelets of sound rippling across the island.

2. THE CREEPING: (CAMOUFLAGE WEED) Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is an invasive species, a woody, deciduous fast-creeping vine that coats and cloaks the environment of Bumpkin Island. In "The Creeping," artists and visitors collaborate to transform Oriental Bittersweet into a material for the concealment of human bodies and transport pathways. Inspired by history and environment, they turn the plentiful invasive species into a material of strategic and artistic homesteading practice. The camoufleurs, like their materials, and the island environments they seek to inhabit, come to be anywhere and nowhere. A layer of disruptive patterning crawls over an island pockmarked by history.

3. SURVEILLANCE IN THE WILD Wildlife biologists have increasingly come to rely on automatic cameras to study their often elusive and well-camouflaged subjects, drawing on the kinds of aerial surveillance apparatuses with which "Erased Shadow Structures" is in dialog. How might such surveillance change our experience of parks and other "natural" spaces? Does the meaning of a picnic, a walk in the woods or the frontier experience evoked by the term "homesteading" depend on whether we are seen or unseen, recorded or unrecorded, certain or uncertain that we are being watched? "Surveillance in the Wild" deploys automatic cameras around Bumpkin Island-some in plain sight others hidden, like the animals and camoufleurs they aim to detect, by the plentiful Oriental Bittersweet.

-text by Shell, Benson, Hisel
-photos by Hisel, Diez

Photos of the Work-In-Progress:

L to R: Benson, Hisel, Dennett, Campbell

Shell (filming) and Kennedy (in ghillie suit)

left to right: Diez, Dennett, Benson

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