First World War veteran 'dazzles' London for the Centenary

Posted on on 15 July 2014
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A strikingly modern version of the dazzle camouflage used at sea in the First World War can now be seen on the River Thames in the heart of London.

HMS President, one of the last three surviving Royal Navy warships built during the war, has been transformed by an award-winning German artist, Tobias Rehberger.

The former submarine hunter is covered from stem to stern with surreal images as part of 14-18 NOW, the UK's cultural programme marking the Centenary of the First World War.

HMS President, built in 1918 as HMS Saxifrage, is now a permanently moored hospitality and conference centre on the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge.

Dazzle painting of warships with stripes and curves was used extensively during the First World War to confuse submarines, making it difficult for them to target shipping accurately.

The contrasting images were designed to distort a ship's outline, frustrating enemy efforts to calculate its course and an angle of attack,

Tobias Rehberger aboard HMS President

This visual technique has been a recurring theme in Tobias Rehberger's own work, as he explains: "Dazzle painting to me perfectly represents the idea of 'not seeing something.'

"To dazzle camouflage HMS President, an original WW1 dazzle warship, gave me the opportunity to take my work out of the exhibition space and to project a new, contemporary visual experience onto an object while returning it to its past identity."

In 2009, Rehberger was awarded the Golden Lion Award at the International Venice Biennale for the creation of a cafe based entirely on the principles of dazzling.

The idea of 'redazzling' HMS President came from the University of the Arts London as the ship approached its 100th birthday.

Professor Chris Wainwright, Pro Vice-Chancellor, said Tobias Rehberger was the 'perfect choice' for the co-commissioners of the project: "We wanted an artist who wasn't going to be phased by a project of this size, nature and complexity." 

Installation of the printed vinyl sheets carrying Rehberger's designs on HMS President's hull and superstructure was the result of six months' planning and preparation.

Teams of 10 to 15 people, some working from boats on the Thames, completed the task in 10 days.

HMS President will remain 'dazzled' until the end of 2014.

In Liverpool, a similar project has been carried out on the pilot ship, Edmund Gardner, by the Venezuelan artist, Carlos Cruz-Diez.

Source: 14-18 NOW

Images: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News