Military culture is filled with a totemic visual language consisting of symbols and insignia that signify everything from various unit and command affiliations to significant events, and noteworthy programs. A typical uniform will sport patches identifying its wearer’s job, program affiliation, achievements and place within the military hierarchy.

These markers of identity and program heraldry begin to create a peculiar symbolic regime when they depict one’s affiliation with what defense-industry insiders call the “black world” – the world of classified programs, projects, and places, whose outlines, even existence, are deeply-held secrets. Nonetheless, the Pentagon’s “black world” is replete with the rich symbolic language that characterizes other, less obscure, military activities.

Installation view of Symbology series:
Symbology, Volume I, 2006
Symbology, Volume II, 2007
Symbology, Volume III, 2009
Twenty fabric patches, framed
120 × 12 in.

The symbols and insignia shown in the Symbology series provide a glimpse into how contemporary military units answer questions that have historically been the purview of mystery cults, secret societies, religions, and mystics: “How does one represent that which, by definition, must not be represented?”

Shown in the publication I could tell you but then you would have to be destroyed by me – Emblems from the Pentagon’s Black World for the first time, these patches reveal a secret world of military imagery and jargon, where classified projects are known by peculiar names (“Goat Suckers,” “None of Your Fucking Business,” “Tastes Like Chicken”) and illustrated with occult symbols and ridiculous cartoons. Although the actual projects represented here (such as the notorious Area 51) are classified, these patches – which are worn by military units working on classified missions – hint at a world about which little is known.