Franz John, a Berlin-based artist, was artist-in-residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts (HCA) for three months in 1996, where he began a comprehensive site-specific investigation from which he developed his project “Military Eyes.” He chose the location for the project because of its special location, in the middle of an extraordinary meeting of military architecture with breathtaking wilderness.
Following old military maps, Franz John explored the area on foot and intensively familiarized himself with the terrain and the military architecture. Franz John reconstructed the “traces of the soldiers”, their previous activities and the places of their observation using visual axes and the remains in the military bunkers. To do this, he used both an old camera obscura technique and a modern hand-held copier that can be dragged directly over the concrete surfaces.
Unlike traditional photographic techniques, the copier allowed him to capture visual information on the spot. In order to obtain an artistic reference to this unusual architecture, John also examined possible connections between strategic planning, tactical behavior (such as the choice of location) and aesthetic perception.
In his words – “Doodles on the wall, sketches, notes and even random traces can reveal how generations of soldiers lived and what they may have perceived. Such traces are at the same time references to collective perception processes, as the view from the bunkers was standardized and restricted through the viewing slits. As I work, I also think about the soldiers’ boredom as they spent hour after hour in the bunkers doing long-winded “non-military” jobs like plotting wind direction, humidity, and even the rotation of the earth.” — Excerpt from the catalogue.