You may have noticed a striped ship located in one of the graving docks in Liverpool close to the Museum of Liverpool. Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and 14-18 NOW (a cultural programme taking place across the UK to mark the centenary of the First World War) jointly commissioned Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez to work with the idea of Dazzle, using the historic pilot ship, the Edmund Gardner. The ship is owned and conserved by Merseyside Maritime Museum and now forms part of the 2014 offering for public art festival Liverpool Biennial
For an excellent overview of Dazzle Ships see this guide on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zty8tfr but in summary the dazzle ship was the brainchild of artist and illustrator Norman Wilkinson, who was a Royal Navy volunteer in World War One. Essentially, the intention was not a camouflage but a distortion or confusion. A U-boat would have had only a short space of time in which to locate a ship in its periscope before it risked being seen and fired upon itself from defence guns. The stripes and shapes and curves were meant to make it hard to interpret which way the ship was facing and its direction and speed of travel.
Artist Edward Wadsworth, supervised the application of ‘dazzle’ patterning to over 2,000 ships, and later made a series of paintings on the subject. One of these is entitled Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool, 1919, which you can see below. The dazzle designs drew on many influences from Cubism and were made by the Dazzle Section at the Royal Academy of Arts, at Burlington House in London.
Carlos Cruz-Diez is the artist behind the design for the Edmund Gardner and is known for his kinetic-optic art. He is also 91 years old! The ship is inspired by the concept, rather than imitating an actual dazzle ship, and so has the artist’s trademark stripes instead of the curves and shapes more common in original dazzle ship design. The paint was applied by Cammell Laird, Shipbuilders and repairers, Birkenhead. Whatever you think of the finished article a fascinating concept has certainly been brought back to life for a new audience. To top it all off Liverpool band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) will be performing two special gigs at the Museum of Liverpool featuring greatest hits and tracks from the band’s 1983 ‘Dazzle Ships’ album.