We’ve looked at tactics of camouflage before – the disguise of machine gun turrets as neo-gothic extension of the Houses of Parliament, the inflatable architecture of hallucinatory military equipment and so on.
But this is new to us. Ghillie suits are an intersection of landscape and clothing that allow soldiers to become their background – a cloaking of the body by environment.
The derivation of ghillie, is the Scots Gaelic for “boy” – and its English usage specifically referred to servants assisting in deer stalking, hunting or fly fishing expeditions in the Scottish Highlands. Perhaps here servants become part of landscape design – a suit to disguise aspects of ownership, control and management. One might think of it as a picturesque device in the manner of a Ha-Ha – a stepped wall in the landscape which visually allowed the boundary of property to be erased suggesting ownership all the way to the horizon. Both allow the aristocrat to exist in an image of naturalness by hiding the means by which that natural-ness is constructed.
There are echoes of the mythical Green Man – a pagan human-landscape hybrid figure – both visually and etymologically.
A Ghillie Dhu is a Gaelic term for meaning ‘Dark Servant’ – a faerie or guardian spirit of the trees. From Wikipedia:
“A Green Man is a sculpture, drawing, or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves. Branches or vines may sprout from the nose, mouth, nostrils or other parts of the face and these shoots may bear flowers or fruit. Commonly used as a decorative architectural ornament,”
The Green Man isn’t a singular character, but seems to have evolved in a variety of culture. Even within English culture there are variegated Green Man:
The Foliate Head – completely covered in leaves
The Disgorging Head – spews vegetation from its mouth
The Bloodsucker Head – sprouts vegetation from all facial orifices.
The intersection of landscape and clothing is, potentially an interesting territory. Could the civilian deployment of Ghillie suits form mobile parklands? Could we imagine the commuters crossing Waterloo Bridge as a means of assembling an atomized park between the hours of 7 and 9 am – one that reassembles at 5pm on its way home? Maybe a Ghillie-Pinstripe suit would mark a trace within the metropolis of the landscapes in which suburban commuters reside. And could we interpret ladies hats festooned with flowers, feathers fruit and so on as an expression of landscape representation?
It is this that is the clue to the significant interpretation of the Ghille suit: Not that clothing might one day mimic landscape, but that it is already part of a continuum of landscape.