The Creative Studio at the V&A is being “dazzled” throughout the nine days of London Design Festival by Pentagram in a commissioned project inspired by a type of camouflage used during the First World War.
Dazzle camouflage, painted onto the surface of ships, was an experimental technique pioneered by British artist Norman Wilkinson during the First World War, drawing on avant-garde artistic movements such as Cubism and Vorticism, as well as animal camouflage. These bewildering shapes and angles were designed to skew an enemy’s perception and make it more difficult to determine a ship’s position, direction or speed, rather than to conceal.
Designed by Pentagram, this project re-interprets the construction of Dazzle camouflage from a purely graphic origin into a typographic exploration. Letterforms from “Suspense” by war-time poet Wilfrid Wilson Gibson are abstracted into a network of patterns, encouraging the viewer to immerse themselves in Gibson’s words and discover a contemporary perspective on the poetry of the era.
As gaudy flies across a pewter plate
On the grey disc of the unrippling sea
Beneath an airless sullen sky of slate
Dazzled destroyers zigzag relentlessly
Whilst underneath the sleek and livid tide
Blind monsters nosing through the soundless deep,
Lean submarines among blind fishes guide
And through primeval weedy forests sweep
Over the hot grey surface of my mind
Glib motley rumours zigzag without rest
While deep within the darkness of my breast
Monstrous desires, lean sinister and blind
Slink through unsounded night and stir the slime
And ooze of oceans of forgotten time.
Special thanks the Judy Greenway for the provision of rights.
Dazzle is the culmination of the Dazzle Ship series co-commissioned by 14–18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, and Liverpool Biennial.