Tobias Rehberger transformed London’s HMS President by covering it in “dazzle camouflage” as part of the 14-18 NOW commissions to mark the centenary of the First World War.
Co-commissioned with Chelsea College of Art and Design, Liverpool Biennial and Tate Liverpool, Tobias Rehberger’s work has been unveiled on 14 July 2014 on the Thames.
As one of the last three surviving warships of the Royal Navy built during the First World War, the HMS President (1918), the first type of warship built specifically for anti-submarine warfare would have originally been decorated in this way. Now moored permanently on the Thames near Somerset House, Rehberger’s art work will see this London landmark return to a state similar to that of almost one hundred years ago.
“Dazzle camouflage”, also know as “dazzle painting” was used extensively during the First World War as a means of camouflaging a ship, making it difficult for the enemy to target it accurately. This visual technique has been a recurring theme in Rehberger’s work.
The principle of dazzle painting was first introduced in 1914 by the scientist John Graham Kerr to then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, with the intention of adopting disruptive camouflage which was initially called “parti-colouring”. 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 to know from what angle to attack.