The contemporary ‘dazzle ships’ moored on the rivers of Liverpool, Edinburgh and London to mark the First World War centenary have become familiar to millions. These brightly coloured boats pay homage to the hundreds of ships that were ‘dazzled’ during the First World War. Now the Dazzle Ship project has moved to the United States, with a new commission by American artist Tauba Auerbach in New York City.
Inspired by dazzle as a technology, the artist transformed a decommissioned fireboat, the historic John J. Harvey, into a floating artwork. Throughout the summer and autumn, the dazzled fireboat will be anchored at various docks around New York Harbor and on weekends will offer free, timed trips for the public, continuing John J. Harvey’s 18-year tradition since her retirement as a working fireboat.
The idea of ‘dazzle’, an experimental camouflage painted on to the surface of ships, was pioneered by British artist Norman Wilkinson, who prepared numerous designs for vessels, including US merchant ships, targeted by enemy U-boats. Drawing on avant-garde artistic movements such as Cubism and Vorticism, as well as animal camouflage, these bewildering shapes and angles were designed to confuse the enemy as they struggled to make out the dazzle ships against shifting waves and clouds.
For Auerbach’s contemporary design, the exterior of the fireboat is painted with two patterns that the artist generated through the intricate process of marbling paper. Treating this decorative art as a visualisation of the physics of “fluid dynamics,” Auerbach’s dazzle incorporates the movement and behaviour of water into its design. Maintaining the John J. Harvey’s red and white palette, Flow Separation foregrounds the history of dazzle’s emphasis on confusing as opposed to hiding. This is Auerbach’s first major public art commission and the first time Public Art Fund has partnered with a boat to realise a new exhibition.
Public Art Fund and 14-18 NOW’s transformation of the fireboat into a dazzle ship by Auerbach will give the city a new riverside landmark, commemorating the centenary of Armistice and the innovation of dazzle.
Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Public Art Fund
Dazzle Ship series co-commissioned with Liverpool Biennial
Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies