Juan Pedro Fabra Guemberena’s True Colours is enacted on the knife’s edge between visibility and invisibility. Camouflage conceals both the quarry and the hunter. The soldier taking cover in an ambush risks becoming a quarry himself, observer and observed.
It is not that long since artists were absorbed by the study of nature, experts at discerning the slightest visual nuances in the landscape. Some of them went to war. In 1914 French troops were sent to the front wearing blue tunics and red trousers, they endured catastrophic losses. A French painter presented the idea of camouflage to the French General Staff and soon found himself in command of camouflage workshops. At the same time the Germans were conscripting expressionists like Franz Marc to paint camouflage netting. In one letter he writes enthusiastically to his wife: “We painted nine enormous Kandinskys!” And Gertrude Stein described how Picasso and Braque congratulated themselves on their discovery of collage in their cubistic still-lifes, in which the objects could hardly be discerned: figures were interwoven with their background, objects with their context.
In his videos Juan-Pedro Fabra Guemberena has staged two situations with soldiers from a Swedish armoured unit, whose camouflage uniforms are adapted to the Scandinavian terrain. We observe a figure slowly, slowly emerging from its background, coming to a halt and then merging back into its surroundings. This is a twofold movement that resembles the mechanisms in a work of art: its meaning emerges, barely to be grasped, and then withdraws in rhythmic pulsation. And in the contextual art of recent years artists have endeavoured to tread the knife’s edge between visibility and invisibility, to allow their works of art to dissipate into their settings, both spatially and socially.
Juan-Pedro Fabra Guemberena came to Sweden as a child, fleeing with his parents from violence and oppression in a Latin American state. There informers could wear the guise of friendly neighbours or workmates and the junta’s soldiers patrolled the streets in camouflage uniform, terrifyingly visible. This is a common experience in this era of migration. And the uncertainty of the setting in a new country tempts in its turn refugees to camouflage themselves, to seek protection by melting in.
–Peter Cornell on Juan-Pedro Fabra Guemberenas True Colours for the Venice Biennial, 2003Learn how to rent this work