The Camouflage Project






Initial discussion about The Camouflage Project begins after Principal Investigators Lesley Ferris and Mary Tarantino discover several books. The first was Etta Shiber’s 1943 memoir Paris-Underground that gave an account of her efforts with her French companion Kitty, to help nearly 200 British soldiers escape occupied France. This book initiated a search for other stories in which women played a central, but hidden role in the war effort. A second book was Agnes Humbert’s Résistance: Memoirs of Occupied France, an account of her work in helping to organize one of the first groups of the French Resistance. Sarah Helm’s A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII provided a gripping tale on the events in France and England. Rita Kramer’s Flames in the Field: The Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France provided a specific focus for this project: Andrée Borrel, Vera Leigh, Sonia Olschanezky and Diana Rowden, the four women killed at Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp. 

In their research they also discovered that art and theatre practice were central to the war effort. Nicholas Rankin’s Churchill’s Wizards: The British Genius for Deception, 1914–1945 introduced them to the history of camouflage and clandestine warfare. Artists and theatre designers were recruited to assist in a variety of ways, from developing camouflage technique to designing fake armies to fool the Germans. Leo Marks’s Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941–1945 articulated a clear connection between codes and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents he helped to train.

Further research and historical digging provides many stories to tell; stories that cannot be contained within a conventional theatrical space. So, out of necessity, the creative team has re-imagined the stage as a multi-sited space, not neatly bifurcated into performance and exhibition, but with numerous overlapping areas. Theatre, the art form of ghosts, has the ability to transport these silenced and invisible figures into the light of contemporary discourse.

Thus, The Camouflage Project is conceived as a three-part interdisciplinary endeavor:

Performance: Devise a new performance work as a collaboration between The Ohio State University Department of Theatre and the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD). The Camouflage Project is envisioned as a multi-media work combining digital animations and video projections with experimental use of 3D printing, 3D scanning and projection mapping.

Exhibition: Create a visual environment parallel to the performance space, which will have a second life as an installation/exhibition. The installation will feature historical background (interviews and soldier training films) on the science and art of camouflage in both World Wars organized around a visual study of selected SOE (principally female) agents and espionage circuits in France, examples of military equipment, devices, disguises, gadgets and weapons of deception.

Symposium: Organize and host an international symposium on the multiple artistic and instrumental meanings of camouflage. The symposium will feature panels of Ohio State and international experts from military history, political science, and the Imperial War Museum addressing the subject of camouflage and the SOE.