The Edmund Gardner: Liverpool's Dazzle Ship

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Induction Chromatique à Double Fréquence pour l’Edmund Gardner Ship / Liverpool. Paris, 2014. Photograph by Mark McNulty

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Induction Chromatique à Double Fréquence pour l’Edmund Gardner Ship / Liverpool. Paris, 2014. Photograph by Mark McNulty

The vibrant ‘dazzle’ designs, which were used extensively during the First World War as a means of camouflaging war ships, have been the inspiration for two spectacular art commissions in Liverpool as part of the 14-18 NOW cultural programme marking the centenary of the Great War. 

Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and 14-18 NOW 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.

Induction Chromatique à Double Fréquence pour l’Edmund Gardner Ship / Liverpool. Paris, 2014 was launched on 12 June 2014 and takes as its starting point the ‘dazzle’ technique immortalised in Edward Wadsworth’s 1919 painting Dazzle-ship in Drydock at Liverpool. Wadsworth himself supervised the camouflaging of over 2,000 warships.

Unlike other forms of camouflage, Dazzle works not by concealing but by making it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed and direction. Artist Norman Wilkinson, credited with inventing the technique, explained that Dazzle was intended primarily to mislead the enemy: each ship’s Dazzle pattern was unique in order to avoid making classes of ships instantly recognisable to the opposition.

For his second contribution to the Biennial, Carlos Cruz-Diez created Couleur Additive Liverpool ONE, Liverpool. Paris, 2014, a ‘crossing’-type piece newly co-commissioned by Liverpool Biennial and Liverpool ONE. The work spans Thomas Steers Way and links Liverpool ONE to the Dazzle Ship on Liverpool Waterfront.

The ‘crosswalk’ is realised as part of Carlos Cruz-Diez’s research into finding new ways of perceiving the chromatic world. He says: ‘The works I create in urban environments and habitats are conceived as artistic statements, creating unforeseen situations and chromatic events in constant mutation, that change the dialectic between the viewer and the work. They are supports for an evolving, changing event.’

Carlos Cruz-Diez was born in Caracas in 1923, and has lived and worked in Paris since 1960. His artistic roots reach back to the Movimiento Cinético (Kinetic Movement) of the 1950s and 1960s, and as his thinking on the visual arts has evolved, his ideas have changed attitudes on how colour is perceived in art. Rather than using colour in order to define the form of recognisable objects, Cruz-Diez wants to make colour the most important aspect of the work of art, stripping it to its bare essentials. He makes art with which the viewer can interact and which stimulates the senses in a very direct way.

His works are part of the permanent collections at institutions such as: Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Among his recent exhibitions are: "Carlos Cruz-Diez: El color en el espacio y en el tiempo", Museo de Arte Latinoamericano (MALBA - Fundación Constantini), Buenos Aires, Argentina (2011), “Carlos Cruz-Diez: A cor no espaço e no tempo” Pinacoteca do estado Sao Paulo, Brazil (2012), "Carlos Cruz-Diez: Circumstance and Ambiguity of Color", Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA Museum), Beijing, China (2013) and “Light Show”, Hayward Gallery, London, U.K. (2013).

The Dazzle Ship will remain in its camouflage until the end of 2015 when she will be returned to her original Edmund Gardner livery. 

In London, the HMS President (1918), which served as a Dazzle Ship during the First World War, has been also ‘dazzled’ by leading German artist Tobias Rehberger.