Photograph of two people crouched and focusing in the woods dressed in a full body suit of fake leaves, with only their hands and faces revealed.
Katie Hargrave and Meredith Laura Lynn, Alone / Ghillie 1 & 2 (2022), Lasercut poly silk, thread, mesh jumpsuit, sublimation print on aluminum

in the weeds

Nathaniel Hendrickson

The exhibition at houseguest gallery might not surprise, but it just might unmake you! Haha! But don’t let first impressions get the upper hand. Like the cat that you see twice in the matrix, this exhibition is full of nuances and subtleties in a free play of pure appearances. Being my first trip to houseguest, I was a little shocked to enter the living room of someone’s house. This made me recall the days of house shows at the Clay Buffet off Market Street in Louisville but that’s another story for another time. First off, I was fooled into thinking that an air filter sitting in the kitchen was just an air filter and not  a hyperrealistic trompe-l'œil painting, MERF Filter 001 by Conor Murphy. From fashion (Alone / Ghillie 2 by Katie Hargrave & Meredith Laura Lynn) to bodily subterfuge (Breadbox by Borealis), simulation to dissimulation; camouflage (and its earlier forms) has been used by artists, hunters, con artists, the Trojans, ninjas, assassins, jesters, raiders, magicians, and animals since the dawn of time. This exhibition squints at the more recent developments in these forms and how artists both incorporate and play with camouflage to affect, persuade, joke, and even deliberately fail at masquerading themselves, their work and their intentions. In guerrilla warfare, being fooled by first impressions can be lethal; in art, being fooled by first impressions can surprise, delight, and disturb.

Disclaimer 1: In response to the theme of the exhibition, I decided to further camouflage this exhibition review as an audio interview. I chose to interview an artistic researcher and theorist, Gian Luigi Biagini, on the theoretical background of camouflage and its antecedents to both deepen your gaze and to challenge you to listen closely to what’s going on around you. The interview is highly theoretical and political; and Biagini speaks in a deep Italian accent. Also, the tongue (my tongue) of the interviewer is damaged from a recent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from my mouth. These factors further contribute to and compound the discourse. Feel free to read the interview, or, better yet, listen to it and let it infect your impressions like an auditory virus.

Disclaimer 2: This review is structured as a kind of transversal response to the exhibition at houseguest gallery titled in the weeds: camouflage and its discontents. In line with the exhibition’s theme of camouflage, rather than being a direct review, this review is structured as a quasi-review between two subjects (the exhibition and the discourse of camouflage) in the form of an audio interview, as a sort of messy companion to the strange notions of what lies hiding in the weeds of the artificial fast moving words (worlds) of the internet art magazine. Thus this text is a slowing down to the speed of thought that is native to the zeitgeist of speaking and listening (i.e. oral tradition), the strange theoretical grammar is a tool to hold you hostage as the review unfolds in a multiplicity of form (notes: the interview starts en media res because I secretly started recording the conversation without Gian’s prior consent. I later asked for his permission to publish the interview. The transcription of the interview has been slightly edited for grammar and succinctness. All parentheses are my own and were added to provide clarity and context).

Gian Luigi Biagini: …a kind of mock camouflage when I was in the museum.

Nathaniel Hendrickson: You made a camouflage of the camouflage?

GLBi: Yeah, the exhibition in the museum was camouflage, all the artworks (responded to this theme), and I dressed as a pedestal and tried to enter the museum.

NH: Yes!

GLB: I was a camouflage of the camou-… Then, they sent me away, so I went to the police car outside… inside there was the car of the police made with wool: a sculpture, no? Like a simulacrum of the police car. And then I went to the car of the true police, to ask and to say, “Yeah, they threw me out of the museum…” you know, to mix the… and so the police car became camouflaged… you didn’t know anymore… It didn't have any more stability as a police car of the police. It was… gigigi… it was a meta-car. It was something… it became a simulacrum, even of reality.

NH: Right! Which also recalls this intervention we did in Venice...

GLB: … in Venice! Yeah, the same…

NH: … where everyone thought that the military police were in fact….

GLB: … yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…

NH: … it was as if the camouflage that they were wearing were, in fact, not stable anymore, and people thought that they were performers.

GLB: …yeah, yeah, yeah, and also they didn’t know if she [Huisi He] was a doll or a woman. The woman inside the box was also camouflaged.

NH: Yeah!

GLB: … They didn’t know if she was a doll, or a corpse, or a woman…

NH: Yeah, “is it flesh or is it plastic?”

GLB: … Yeah, they didn’t know, yeah… it was there, also… a shifting… a derive or  simulacrum of camouflage… a differential camouflage… a variation–a continuous variation that destabilizes all the points of reference of a situation that is based on organizational references with signifiers that start from the center and move to the peripheries–but there it was no more…

NH: I’m interested in talking about the Trojan horse in relation to this too, because…

GLB: Yeah, that’s true…

NH: … The Trojan horse is, in a sense, an agent of the transversal–it creates disruptions in the order of the signifier and the signified, right?

GLB: Yes, exactly. There is no more master signifier–but there is a monster signifier. Because there is no more master-slave in the chain of signification. There is no more chain of signification that starts from the master. It is a monster, something that starts wobbling… You have this destabilization of what is reality, that is constructed.

NH: … Yeah, it’s like Frankenstein's monster…

GLB: Yeah, it’s a Frankenstein monster–it is deconstructed and disorganized as a form…. It’s a tactic of disruption. It is also like a terrorist that…

NH: … disguise themselves?

GLB: Yeah, that disguise themselves…yeah, disguising. And also, the disguise carries us to the disruption. The problem then is that you risk being re-territorialized, no? Also, It’s a continuous fight between flight and capture–escape and capture. All the systems work like this. The identity is captured again, and if you risk, if you transgress, you can create this disorder of the situation, no? But then, the institution recaptures you and, for example, abolishes your lines of flight–as it happened to me with the university. They can abolish the lines of flight and just… cut you out. Or they, they, they… The art of camouflage is always being on the edge…

NH: Yeah, you go from being a kite or a sail to being thrown…

GLB: … without wind.

NH: … thrown without wind, yeah.

GLB: … Deleuze and Guattari say that it’s almost impossible to form a body without organs. Because… there can be, temporarily–But then, you risk being either cut out or integrated as power, for example: as it happens in the war machine of the military. In fact, this technique is used in the military, with the incursore (special forces) that disguise themselves in the enemy field. Also, the mimetic, as with the mimesis of the uniform. The Technique of camouflage can also be used by the state. It’s not only a tactic of disruption. For example, the secret police that can infiltrate…

NH: …Or the C.I.A.?

GLB: Deleuze and Guattari speak of power and puissance–pouvoir, as central, that imposes itself from the top down; and the pouvoir that is the power that escapes, i.e. puissance. In Italian it’s potere and potenza: power and potentiality. They are two different forces that are embedded in reality. It happens, even in nature, camouflage (as in the spider or butterfly, etc). There is never a solution that one wins over the other. Or you could say the same about the center and the periphery–the more the center is strong, the more it creates the periphery that tends to escape to the center. As it happened with the colonies, for example. At a certain point you extract the power, for example: England from America. And then America, at a certain point, flew out; and the center could no longer control the periphery, because in order to extract power you have to give power of extraction to the periphery. So, in reality, it’s always unstable: this power relation, no? Foucault’s power relation is not stable: master and servant are always in co-dependence… there is not a univocal relationship between master and servant. The dialectic is not closed like a signifier: master-servant.

NH: I’m curious what you think about the idea, or rather the monster, that is proposed by the anthropologist and writer, Michael Taussig, which he calls the master of non-mastery. Isn’t this a potential answer to this question of a body without organs?

GLB: Yeah, yeah,

NH: …the mastery of non-mastery or somehow knowing what not to know…

GLB: It started already with Bataille, this discourse of the master with no master, or with Derrida where you try to escape the logos, the master of the logos, through logocentrism. Through anti-logocentrism… so, in this sense, you use words against words. To use the signifier against the signifier. To reverse the signifier against itself. Deconstruction. The use of the sense against the sense of the text so that it becomes something else.

NH: It’s like a hammer against a hammer.

GLB: Yeah, it’s like a hammer against itself. Like hitting a hammer with a hammer.

NH: Or like in [Zen] Buddhism where the one hand claps by itself.

GLB: Yeah, it’s almost impossible, in fact it is impossible. Pure deconstruction is impossible

NH: It’s like the Zen koan?

GLB: Yeah, exactly… exactly… exactly… but, it is never achieved, it is still open, you can create an opening… you cannot completely be anti, you cannot close the dialectic as Hegel was thinking. Hegel was thinking that there was an anti-dialectic, i.e. master against servant… but then there is a dialectic where the servant takes the power of the master and the master becomes a servant–in the sense that the master, as a synthesis between master and slaves, becomes a servant of the slaves–like in the state. For example, if I’m a functionary of the state, I serve the servants as master. So for him, the state was the maximum realization of the dialectic, of the spirit of the dialectic. No? In the modern state, you don’t have tyrants anymore, but you have the master that serves the servants.

NH: So, I'm curious to know how Socrates plays into this because, in a sense, his axiom is different. It’s one, not of dialectic, but of dialog: the dialogical.

GLB: Yes, but even with Socrates there is the dialectic of becoming a master of yourself.

NH: … to know your etymology, to know your ontology as well… to be aware of what you don’t know.

GLB: … to know yourself. Even if this is open. Because then you realize that you are always ignorant. The more you know, the less you know…. The more you become a master of yourself, the more you become humble, because you realize that within your knowing there is always an un-knowing. If you know very little, you think that you know everything. But if you go deeper into something, you understand that you don’t know anything. It was very anti-authoritarian, the idea of mastery of Socrates.

NH: Master of yourself?

GLB: Mastery of myself doesn’t mean that I become in control of myself. Rather, I discover myself. By becoming a master, I become more humble, because I know that there is…

NH: The forces that domesticate us are everywhere.

GLB: … They are everywhere and they are not domesticable, basically… So, I have to be humble–the more I know, the less I know. This makes you humble… And this is the prototype of the humanistic intellectual as in the western project of Kant. You are an end, not a means. Every human is an end and cannot be used as a means. Every human is a master, it cannot be a servant. This is the aim of the humanistic project. It started from Socrates and arrived at Kant.

NH: But is that contrary to animism? Are humanism and animism at odds with each other? Or is there some….?

GLB: Yeah, the problem with that is that the human becomes the center of everything. So now there is this critique of human-centrism.

NH: Yeah, that’s what I’m curious about…. And what I think I’m interested in with this exhibition (in the weeds) in the sense that there is this discourse with the works, for example, of this artwork, “under the tussling surface,” where the human element is seemingly a construction as well. It asks: is this a real hand or is this not a real hand? Is it human, or is it matter, or is it even animal, biological, mineral?

GLB: There is also this in the discourse, yes.

NH: It brings up this notion of trompe-l'œil

GLB: It can also be post-human, this discourse of the simulacrum. The French have a saying, “placed into abyss,” or la mise en abyme (To put a copy within itself). Something that is in a sort of suspension.

NH:mise en abyme, yes…

GLB: There is also the concept of Agamben: the unworking that suspends the work of signification: an inoperativity.

NH: …inoperativity, yes…

GLB: There is also this discourse that makes the machine of signification not work. It suspends… it’s la mise en abyme.

NH: I think that’s also connected to the Trojan horse, and also the virus. Because the virus enters into the logos, the system of language, and it breaks the system with its own programming.

GLB: That is more than a mise en abyme. There is also a counter-activity with the virus. It’s not only a mise en abyme, it’s also a counter-activity.

NH: But it seems like a gift, it seems like a simple copy, like something which is given, what beauty this is, the copy of the animal. The horse which was a gift. What was once seemingly benevolent, as in a mise en abyme, then becomes the potential for a virus.

GLB: …the potential for enemy…

NH: You allow an opening for a force which you did not quite understand before.

GLB: There is also this idea of Derrida that we are host and hostage of each other. Host and Hostage, in the sense that you host the gift but then you become hostage of the gift because you have to return it… but this is another thing…

NH: But it’s transversely related.

GLB: Yeah, this is more transversal. Yeah, this is the danger of the discourse of otherness, because if you are open to the other, you risk that the other is an enemy. This entanglement with the other gives potentiality to the liberal discourse against the authoritarian hierarchical signifier. But it is also against the liberal discourse… because you can host the other that makes you hostage and is also an3  enemy. If you host the trojan horse then you get the virus inside and it unmakes you. So this is the problem of identity. You know neoliberalism, in the most pure sense, is not liberalism. Liberism is just economic. But neoliberalism was also thriving on the discourse of the other that comes from ‘68 but then when you start to host it, for example in the U.S. with the terrorists of Al-Qaeda, that disguise themselves just as tourists, and they are in fact enemies instead that want to unmake you… then comes the Patriot Act, that restricts the otherness… So, as I said before, this idea of puissance and power…

NH: … are always in play.

GLB: … it's always in play.

NH: … even from the individual to the state level, from the macroscopic to the microscopic…

GLB: …Yeah, it’s always in play…

NH: …even with physical systems, i.e. with entropy…

GLB: … and complexity… a complex order. So, this is why I could never vote. Because I am aware of this… I mean, I could never be right or left… I’m always schizophrenic… You cannot create a system that is ideological or whatever…

NH: But isn’t the body always arriving toward homeostasis?

GLB: …The body is a dynamic disequilibrium… homeostasis is just if you see it in an instant… there it can be homeostatic… but with the time it needs to flow up and down… you are in an osmosis with the environment, the environment always changes. There is always change because there is entropy. There is always a new order–a new level of order. So, one cannot be in perfect homeostasis, just phases of order and disorder; Homeostasis and transition. But I would say the essence is more the transition than the homeostasis because it's always in becoming. Homeostasis is a conservative idea. Or, for example the idea of the holistic, as something that is a closed system, is an idea of harmony that comes from Comte, the sociologist… it doesn’t work because there is always a deterritorialization… Disruptions… You know, your body needs to be renovated. So, there is never a full form, there is always a shaping… a shaping.

NH: Yeah, this is why the discourse of gender and identity politics is so complicated.

GLB: … It’s ambivalent…

NH: Yes, because it also points to this fluidity in the self that is infinitely malleable… So much so that one can change and modify oneself and even deceive… for example, plastic surgery which makes you… you can change your face to look more beautiful or even to appear as a woman or a man.

GLB: …but one also risks, for example, if one is schizophrenic… so, in that case, instead of curing the mind, I think about changing my body to become someone else. But then my problem doesn’t stop.

NH: Right…

GLB: In that case it becomes worse and worse…

NH: Or you just become the multiplicities… that you are trying to resist?

GLB: …It’s a multiplicity without synthesis… it becomes really an unmaking…

NH: …This is deterritorialization in a sense…

GLB: …Yeah, it is deterritorialization, but it is also… as Deleuze and Guattari would say… pay attention to extreme deterritorialization… because, this category of territorialization and deterritorialization must find a balance… you have to dance into this… you have to dance with chains, as Nietzsche says… we are dancing with chains…

NH: Chains?

GLB: … chains, yeah… one cannot… one cannot…

NH: … Who said that?

GLB: … Nietzsche… And there is this idea of the dance between these forces that keeps you always on the edge of something… no? This is the art, to stay on the edge… not to stay out (or in the center) … because if you stay (too much) out, then you abolish yourself… or you kill yourself, or you are marginalized, or you are put in a situation of dependence on the system… You cannot deterritorialize to the extreme… in fact in nature there are these forces, territorialization (reterritorialization) and deterritorialization, that are natural forces… it’s not that deterritorialization is absolutely a good thing… you have to know how much you can deterritorialize… you have to be sensitive to deterritorialization… and not to forget that there is also reterritorialization, also… it is something that is natural… but you risk, as with the transsexuals who can change the body then could (potentially) never find themselves and go to complete madness…

NH: Then one also becomes a monster, in a sense.

GLB: This was also the problem of Nietzsche that then became mad… He also grabbed a horse because he felt that he missed… You know, it was a post-human act. The last act of Nietzsche was to become mad and grab the horse.

NH: In a loving embrace.

GLB: Yeah, in a loving embrace. It was an act of his philosophy; it was an accomplishment of his philosophy… but then he became completely catatonic afterward. He lost himself completely to the panic, complete panic.

NH: Interesting…

GLB: So, it is not completely closed, also, this tension between human and post-human. It’s not that the post-human is an absolute good pole. One must always negotiate between forces. It’s not that you can become… even then, Derrida speaks of limitrophy… You cannot say that we are like animals.

NH: There’s still a difference…

GLB: There is a difference in play.

NH: I feel like it’s good to close it here because I feel like a lot has been said… I was recording this conversation. I was interested in interviewing you (in relation to this topic) because I think your work deals with camouflage, all the time…

GLB: Yes, a lot.. A lot.

NH: And I felt like it would be a good dialogue on the topic of camouflage and (in response to the exhibition) in the weeds, so thank you, I guess, for this. Oh and here’s my coffee… it was disguised in the… it was hidden as I was searching for it.

Photograph of an arm, wrist, and hand among green foliage. The skin and nails seem either fake or very irritated. Allison Spence, Under the tussling surface (Clint) (2017), Digital textile print on linen

Photograph of a pair of hands with a medium skin tone pulling apart a loaf of sliced sandwich bread, with a caption or subtitle underneath that reads “MISOPROSTOL CAN BE TAKEN ALONE OR WITH MIFEPRISTONE.”
borealis, Breadbox, (2022), wooden bread box, video playing from inside the box, printed sourdough, regionally-specific risograph zines & informational materials in shareable bread bags, communal meals size varying


Gian Luigi Biagini is an art researcher with an interdisciplinary nomadic background: masters in Political Science (University of Florence), masters in Communication and Media (University of Florence), professional masters in Creative Writing (EU-Lazio County), PhD in Art Research ( Aalto University Finland). Biagini’s practice is mainly inspired by Deleuze and Guattari trying to create, through a critical-disruptive event, a “becoming-animal” to subtract from an abstract urban space characterized by a disembodied consensus.



Nathaniel Hendrickson is  an interdisciplinary artist, painter, curator, documentary filmmaker and freelance producer based in Casey County,  KY.

RUCKUS, 2018-2023
Louisville, KY