Liverpool Biennial

Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art will run from 16 September - 26 November 2006

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Historic Dazzle Ship Image

Dazzle Ship

  • 12 June 2014 — 31 December 2015 *on now

Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and 14-18 NOW have jointly commissioned Carlos Cruz-Diez to work with the idea of ‘dazzle’ camouflage in partnership with National Museums Liverpool using a historic pilot ship owned and conserved by Merseyside Maritime Museum. The Edmund Gardner is situated in a dry dock adjacent to Liverpool’s Albert Dock and this will be a new public monument for the city.

Carlos Cruz-Diez is one of the great figures of contemporary art, especially kinetic-optic art. His artistic roots reach back to the Movimiento Cinético [Kinetic Movement] of the 1950s and 1960s. As his thinking on the visual arts has evolved, his ideas have changed attitudes on how colour is perceived in art. His works can be found in the permanent collections of Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.

In London the HMS President, which was formerly a Dazzle Ship during the First World War, will also be ‘dazzled’ by a contemporary artist in a co-commission by Chelsea College of Art and Design.

Dazzle painting was a system for camouflaging ships that was introduced in early 1917, at a time when German submarines were threatening to cut off Britain’s trade and supplies. The idea was not to “hide” the ships, but to paint them in such a way that their appearance was optically distorted, so that it was difficult for a submarine to calculate the course the ship was travelling on, and so know from what angle to attack. The “dazzle” was achieved by painting the ship in contrasting stripes and curves that broke up its shape. Characterised by garish colours and a sharp patchwork design of interlocking shapes, the spectacular ‘dazzle’ style was heavily indebted to Cubism.

Dazzle painting was invented by a marine painter, Norman Wilkinson, a future President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. Artist Edward Wadsworth, who supervised the application of ‘dazzle’ patterning to over 2,000 ships, later made a series of paintings on the subject.

The close relationship of ‘dazzle’ technology to British art extended right through its manufacture. Each British pattern was unique, and many of the designs were invented by women from the Royal Academy of Arts in London. These were then tested on wooden models, viewed through a periscope in a studio to assess how they would work at sea. Though the practice has largely (but not entirely) fallen out of fashion in the military, ‘dazzle’ remains a source of inspiration to artists today.

Liverpool Biennial’s dazzle ship is part of Monuments from the Future, a new commissioning initiative between Tate Liverpool and the Biennial which invites artists and architects to bring large-scale imaginary monuments from the future into the present. In order to fulfil this paradoxical task, artists will collaborate with professional futurologists (social scientists who predict possible future scenarios) to determine possible future circumstances and set of events for which a new monument can be imagined and produced. This project will slowly turn Liverpool into a sci-fi sculpture park making use of Liverpool’s industrial archaeology to celebrate its possible new futures.

Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and Chelsea College of Art and Design, in association with Merseyside Maritime Museum and HMS President (1918). London dazzle ship supported by the Goethe-Institut London.

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  • Any age


Canning Dock's Graving Dock
Canning Dock's Graving Dock
L3 4AN




Liverpool Biennial
PO Box 1200
L69 1XB



0151 709 7444


0151 709 7377

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