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Camouflage | Material


The archetypical practice of Camouflage for interior spaces emerged from installation art in the mid-1960s. With its roots in Minimalism, the painter Frank Stella explored the relative interactions between site, object and viewer. Rather than conform to the boundaries of a rectilinear canvas, Stella cut the canvas to fit the specific shape of his paintings. When mounted on a gallery wall, these shaped canvases interact dynamically with each other and the wall itself. In Installation Art, Claire Bishop explains how Stella’s decision to manipulate the shape of the canvas causes the viewer to perceive not only the paintings but also the negative spaces between them. The freed paintings appear “to embrace the whole room” and as a result the context becomes more apparent. Photographs of Stella’s exhibits register this shift, documenting the events with images that contain multiple, not individual, paintings within the gallery space. Bishop suggests that “the sum of the works in situ was more important than any single image of one object in the show.”1

Minimalist installations also emphasized the relationship between the art object and the viewer. Artists such as Robert Morris inserted simple forms of awkward proportions into the gallery space. The dimensions of the pieces mimicked those of the human body and their placement within the gallery often encroached on the personal space of the viewer, creating a feeling of discomfort and a heightened sense of one’s own body. Much of the theoretical underpinnings of this movement come from the influential writings of French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In Phenomenology of Perception, he argues that “the thing is inseparable from a person perceiving it.” Merleau-Ponty argues that perception is directly linked to our sense of being and that an understanding of space comes from the unique experiences within the confines of one’s own body.2

Whereas early Minimalists attempted to make the viewer acutely aware of the boundaries of their body in relationship to a specific environment, installation artists since the 1970s have created destabilizing environments that dissolve both the boundaries of an interior space as well as viewers’ perceived boundaries of their own bodies. This approach is evident in the work of the artist James Turrell whose light installations often involve a series of interlocking spaces in which spectators travel from areas completely blanketed in darkness into monochromatic rooms saturated in colored light. Turrell’s environments may cause spectators to feel confused and vulnerable for they cannot see themselves or interior surfaces. In a space void of reference points the spectator feels disoriented and proceeds cautiously through the space. Bishop explains the effects of this new phenomenon, "Rather than heightening awareness of our perceiving body and its physical boundaries, these dark installations suggest our dissolution; they seem to dislodge or annihilate our sense of self – albeit only temporarily – by plunging us into darkness, saturated color, or refracting our image into an infinity of mirror reflections."3

Due to safety concerns this technique rarely extends beyond the museum. However, when designers attempt to destabilize the interior, they rely less on extreme lighting, and achieve a similar affect by wrapping the floor, walls and ceiling with a consistent geometric pattern. This approach recalls the work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. In “Mirror Room (Pumpkin)” (1991), Kusama covers all surfaces of the gallery room with polka dots. She heightens the overall effect by placing a large mirrored cube in the center of the room. Finally, she places herself within the space dressed in clothes that mimic the pattern. The interior space and Kusama herself appear camouflaged.4

A similar technique was used in 1998 for the Bisazza Showroom to present mosaic tiles in an unusual and dynamic manner. Tiles cover all interior surfaces, organized in a pattern consisting of large organic forms that seem to undulate throughout the interior. Using the tiles to create an installation, allowed Bisazza to express the full potential of the material to its clients. In the Louis Vuitton store in Tokyo, designers Jun Aoki and Associates give a corridor a disorienting effect by applying a Palladio-inspired pattern to the floor, walls, and ceiling.5

While Camouflage is a relatively rare material application for interiors it may become more prevalent as designers continue to explore the effects of patterns and graphics on interior space. The previous examples attempt to create unique environments based on an exhaustive use of a single material treatment.6

end notes

  1. 1) Claire Bishop, Installation Art: A Critical History (New York: Routledge, 2005), 55-56; Robert Morris, ‘Untitled (Corner Piece)” [1964] Green Gallery, New York. in Minimalism (London: Phaidon Press: 2000), 50, 80.
  2. 2) Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 1994), 238.
  3. 3) Bishop, Installation Art: A Critical History, 82; for photographs and interpretations of Turrell’s work, see
  4. 4) Yayoi Kusama during the installation of “Mirror Room (Pumpkin)” [1991] Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, in Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama (Paris: Les Presses du Reel, 2002), 252.
  5. 5) Inlaid marble floors of Palladio’s Santo Spirito, Venice, in Richard Weston, Materials, Form and Architecture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 57; Wood parquet floor, walls and ceiling, Louis Vuitton [2004] Jun Aoki and Associates, Tokyo in Raul A. Barreneche, New Retail (London: Phaidon Press, 2005), 79.
  6. 6) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of Camouflage as a material was developed from the following sources: 1990 Bar Lodi [1999] Fabio Novembre; Milan, Italy in Edie Cohen, "La Vita Lodi," Interior Design 70, no. 12 (Oct. 1999): 99, 165; PhotoCrd: Alberto Ferrero / 2000 Bisazza Tile Showroom [2004] Fabio Novembre; New York City in John Peter Radulski, "Fabio Novembre Wraps a SoHo Loft with Curves," Architectural Record 192, no. 2 (Feb. 2004): 157; PhotoCrd: Alberto Ferrero; Una Hotel Vittoria [2004]; Adaptive Use, Warehouse [19th century]; Fox Linton Associates and Fabio Novembre, Architect; Florence, Italy in Donna Paul, "Life's Rich Tapestry," Interior Design 75, no. 1 (Jan. 2004): 219; PhotoCrd: Alberto Ferrero; Louis Vuitton Tokyo [2005] Jun Aoki and Associates; Tokyo in Raul Barreneche, New Museums (London: Phaidon, 2005), 79.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) O'Brien, Elizabeth. “Material Archetypes: Contemporary Interior Design and Theory Study” MA Thesis, Cornell University, 2006, 132-139.