STUDY FOR DAZZLE
SYLVIA SCHWENK AND ANNE ZAHALKA
The practice of painting Naval ships with disruptive pattern camouflage, known as Dazzle, was initially used almost 100 years ago in the First World War. Ships from around the world, including the Australian fleet, were painted in outrageously bold colored abstract shapes and patterns with areas of dark and light tones placed next to each other to break up the outline and shape of the ship when viewed from a distance.
The artists proposed to contemporize this naval history of camouflaging by creating a work of art made from human bodies. We created “Study for Dazzle” with a small group of Naval personnel and civilians during an artist residency on board HMAS Penguin for an exhibition that would coincide with centenary of the Royal Australian Naval fleet entering Sydney Heads, Australia.
The project encourages people to become performers and actively participate in the creative process of making a new work of art in a public space. It also acts as a bridge between the military, civilians and everyday life, allowing for an exchange of ideas and creativity and making the Navy more accessible to the general public and vice-versa.
“Study for Dazzle” builds relationships and community across a diverse group of people, transforming them from a group of individuals into a unified group. Participants work together, communicate with one another, help each other and implicitly trust each other to present the work in a professional and cohesive way. There is a real sense of gifting and sharing.
“Study for Dazzle” was an attempt at a larger project that could not be realized, in which a side view of a Naval ship is marked out on Middle Head Oval, Sydney, Australia with around 1,000 Naval personnel and civilians lying down side by side to create a “naval ship” covered in Dazzle camouflage. This work of participatory performance art would be videotaped and photographically recorded from a Navy helicopter to capture the event in all its nuances and to be produced as finished artworks. However, the artists were advised that while the Navy considers Dazzle “to be an amazing and exciting project which it supports in principle, there are insufficient resources to support the realisation of such a large project.”