Camouflage Art of Emma Hack
Savina Museum of Contemporary Art presents a solo exhibition of Emma Hack, who has widely exhibited in New York, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, for the first time in South Korea. In this exhibition, Hack shows forty-nine major works covering her earlier works to the most recent. Hack’s core motive is camouflage: covering up human bodies with flowers. Camouflage is often used as a technique to survive in the ecosystem filled with competitions and emergencies. The unspoken human nature to hide oneself through camouflage is often translated as the desire to be free from the judgmental eyes of others.
I remember when I saw Hack’s body painting works for the first time in Gotye’s music video, Somebody That I Used to Know (2011), the Billboard chart number one song for nine consecutive weeks. The impressive voice of the male vocal and unique visual effect was attractive enough to capture viewers immediately. After learning about more works of Hack, I found her brilliant idea hiding human bodies in the background visually intriguing.
Emma Hack realized her talent at an early age and has been working as a body-painting artist. She started working in camouflage art in 2005, making nature and figures into one being. Hack’s camouflage method was influenced by a New-York-based artist and model, Veruschka von Lehndorff, who was originally from Germany and active in 1950s and 60s. Veruschka was known for his body paintings that expressed the trauma caused from his family history. He transformed his body into trees, pebbles, or doors—trying to be part of nature or inanimate objects—and the results are striking.
In contemporary art, the body has been a tool for numerous artists, whether reminding audiences of the importance of the body or delivering social messages on the gender, race, or class. Hack’s camouflage art, which covers the human body, has been combined with Florence Broadhurst’s design. This collaboration significantly expanded Hack’s artistic realm. The natural and geometric patterns of Broadhurst’s design was applied to model’s body and was reborn as the artistic and genuine story of Emma Hack. The collection, Florence’s Archives, provides the visually delightful and erotic beauty to the viewers through camouflage. The splendid and decorative patterns and colors in the photography grab viewers’ attention and stimulate the senses. Veruschka tended to be nature and object to save him from the death by using protective coloring because he was scared and horrified. On the other hand, Hack ingeniously expresses the state of mind that tries to be free from the reality and creates optical illusions as if the model is wearing an invisibility cloak standing in front of colorful wallpaper in the earlier works.
The characteristics of Emma Hack’s works seem to reflect Oriental spirit. In Eastern philosophy, it is based on the harmony between human and nature believing that human is a part of nature. Despite the fact that the Western belief system is human-centered and they try to conquer and control nature, the Eastern belief system emphasizes the spirit of living harmoniously in nature and recovering the human nature. The female figures in Hack’s major collections such as Wallpaper Mandala and Native Mandala are facing the front covered by flowers and leaves. The work, Mirrored Whispers, based on the memory of grandmother’s garden and female sensibility, shows two women facing each other while closing their eyes and posing as if they are praying. It is reminiscent of the practice of Taoism, leaving nature as it is. ‘Letting nature be’ in Taoism doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do anything in nature. It means we shouldn’t try to control nature with human greed so let nature be wholesomely as it should be. It is the attitude on life trying not to leave marks of human in nature. The shape of a circle called ‘mandala’ which is repeatedly appearing in Hack’s works indicates the ultimate completeness, which is the source of life, and symbolizes the oneness of nature and human. We are living in very confusing time because of the war, terror, and hunger around the world. Hack’s works seem to tell us that we need the time of reflection to listen our inner sense in this time. Hack’s works tell us that we are humans, who have to return to nature, therefore, we have to think of the environmental issues caused by human greed.
Emma Hack intentionally brings nature and human together in the picture and tries to unite the body and soul as well as spirit and object in a new way. Through works, she makes viewers recognize the different worlds, outer and inner, physical and mental. If we examine her works since 2005, we can see the endless study on finding new ways to present two-dimensional and three-dimensional object together. In comparison to the earlier works, which Hack tried to merge the human figure with the background, recent works started including butterflies, birds, and other animals to create many visual layers. Hack created an illusion by dissolving background and human figures into one pattern and juxtaposed animals in front of it. Then, she took a photograph and this final result made viewers confused because of this unique combination of two-dimensional and three-dimensional imageries. Especially, the mysterious animals such as butterflies, birds, kangaroos, and lizards in the photographs lead the viewers to the dreamy and unrealistic world. Utopia Series created a feeling of looking through a pinhole focusing on the object. Recently, Hack borrowed the lenticular technique and arranged twelve images to create an optical illusion to make viewers to feel as if they are looking at the three-dimensional work, leaving them with vivid experiences. Hack consistently searches to develop the technique to show the genuine relationship between ‘to see’ and ‘to be seen’. She is consistently changing and experimenting to actualize the imagination. This is why we pay attention to Emma Hack among many other artists who use human body camouflage techniques in their works. In order to make the body disappear within the background, Hack painted ten to twenty hours by hands. This labor-intensive painting was made by her passion and energy. It could be also the time of contemplation and meditation for the artist. As a result, her works make us to think and reflect about the human being and nature. She breaks the boundary between photography and painting and erases the separation between body and painting. She talks to us with her fascinating visual language, as if she is suggesting us to go back to focus on ourselves while freeing from the heavy burden of reality, just to think about the harmonious life with nature.
—Jaehyun Kang, Chief Curator at the Savina Museum of Contemporary Art