The first Potemkin villages are said to have been created by the Russian Prince Grigori Potemkin in the late eighteenth century. As first minister to Catherine the Great, he is reputed to have hired actors and set designers to erect fake pasteboard villages to deceive Catherine and her European guests on their travels through the Ukraine. Whatever the truth of these allegations, the idea of Potemkin villages has since lived on. It was much used against credulous western pilgrims to the Soviet Union, and it has found new applications since the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The articles gathered here are concerned with the theatricalization of international politics, and closely associated with themes explored both in Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War and in its yet uncompleted successor, concerned with western travellers to China in the nineteen fifties.
Tyneham becomes Tolpuddle for the shooting of Bill Douglas’s Comrades, 1985 (David Appleby)
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“The Thread” is a series of discussions run by the London Consortium on Resonance 104.4fm. This programme, entitled “How to Hide” and broadcast on 22 March, was presented by James Wilkes and took the form of a conversation with Sophie Nield, Synnove Fredericks and myself – about camouflage and related matters.
On Living in a World of Facades: from Prince Potemkin’s villages to the Berlin Wall, Iraq and the Truman Show »February 11th, 2011 | Posted in: Articles General, Potemkinism and Camouflage
A public lecture delivered at the Architectural Association in London on 8 February 2011.
“In 1964, three British women stepped into the role of ‘civil defence volunteers’ and entered a model shelter next to the Guildhall in York. They spent 24 hours in their miserable hollow, listening to simulated regional broadcasts beamed in from a van outside. They slept for a few hours in a specially sandbagged ‘core’ area intended to protect them against fallout, cooked a meal on a primus stove and swallowed aspirins for their headaches. After a single day they were plainly demoralised. As the Times wrote of the widely reported exercise, ‘even that basic feminine impulse to make frequent cups of tea deserted them. . .’”
Prompted by the idea of ‘rehearsal’ presented in Tracy C. Davis’ book, Stages of Emergency: Cold War Nuclear Civil Defense (Duke 2007), I suggest a wider account of how theatrical techniques have emerged from the playhouse to shape public life and the political sphere.
‘It has to be remembered that throughout this war our men are moving in a more or less easterly direction…’
Solomon J. Solomon was a prominent Anglo-Jewish artist and portrait painter who went on to pioneer various schemes of camouflage in the First World War. It was in this letter to the editor of The Times, published on 27 January, 1915, that he first indicated the contribution that artists might make to a war in which traditional methods of concealment had been invalidated by the coming of aerial photography. Here applied to the question of military uniform, his novel recommendations are indebted to the idea of ‘countershading’ developed by the American artist Abbott H. Thayer in the earlier study, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909). Solomon’s letter is followed by another, written by an ‘artist and big-game shot’ who signed himself ‘W.W.’, and printed two days later. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘camouflage’ did not enter English usage until 1917.
A Nazi propaganda film made in Terezin (Theresienstadt), a fortress and town in the Czech Republic where the Nazis concentrated Jewish prisoners before transporting them to Auschwitz. The director, Kurt Gerrin, was himself a prisoner. Like the rest of the cast, he was taken to Auschwitz and murdered shortly after these scenes were shot in 1944.
A note on Agatha Christie’s novel, At Bertram’s Hotel.
A review of Margaret Macmillan’s Seize the Hour: when Nixon Met Mao. Published in the London Review of Books, Vol. 29, No. 16, 16 August 2007, pp. 19-20.
An article on the art of camouflage. Written as a review of Hardy Blechman et al (eds.), DPM Disruptive Pattern Material: an Encyclopedia of Camouflage: Nature, Military, Culture, London: DPM, 2004. Published in London Review of Books, Vol. 27 No. 12, 23 June 2005, pp. 16-20.
How Alastair Campbell helped me get a quotation from Tony Blair. A version of this article was printed in the London Review of Books, 24 July 2003, p. 4.
On 1 May 2003 a jet carrying George W. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, just returned to California from Iraq. Standing in front of a carefully placed banner announcing ‘Mission Accomplished’, Bush gave a speech declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq.