Pentagram at V&A

April 1, 2019



The disguising of military personnel, equipment, and installations by painting or covering them to make them blend in with their surroundings.

When attempting to evade capture or avoid detection, the main objective is to cleverly conceal yourself. In the animal kingdom, concealing colouration and disguise are adopted by many creatures to either protect themselves from predators, or to use advantageously when hunting prey.

But what about using camouflage to disrupt and cause confusion?

This was a strategy pitched by the British Artist Norman Wilkinson to the Royal Navy during World War I. In order to protect the Allied ships from the German U-boats, Wilkinson proposed amalgamating bold shapes and strong, contrasting colour to create a more radical type of camouflage. Fundamentally, dazzle camouflage proved to be highly effective at enabling both British and US vessels avoid enemy torpedoes at sea.

As part of London Design Festival 2018, the Creative Studio at the V&A became “Dazzled” by the multi-disciplinary design agency, Pentagram. Dazzle was part of the Dazzle Ship series co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Liverpool Biennial. The project was an opportunity for Pentagram to reinterpret the dazzle camouflage from a more typographic perspective, and also involved using the Wilfrid Wilson Gibson poem “Suspense” as a source of influence.

Pentagram’s contemporary reinterpretation of dazzle camouflage successfully allows the viewer to be immersed in Gibson’s renowned poetry and the abstracted, monochromatic forms of the camouflage. The dynamic fusion of bold, geometric patterns and textures also helps to cleverly highlight and frame verses extracted from Suspense. The bewildering, confusing style of Pentagram’s typographic intervention within the museum is an accurate portrayal of the nature of dazzle camouflage itself. By favouring art movements such as Cubism and Vorticism, the jarring designs suggest a significant degree of movement and undulation. It unsettles you to the extent that it gives the impression the room itself is physically moving, whilst you remain static. Dazzle truly is a wholly immersive experience, and one which makes you believe you have indeed been transported back to a war-time era. It is only when you catch the abstracted letterforms juxtaposed against the elaborate, decorative ceiling motifs of the V&A when you realise you never actually left the building, or the present day.

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