Speculative Propositions: A Visual Pattern Sampler

During World War I, a peculiar example of disruptive patterning was developed to adorn British and American battleships. “Dazzle camouflage” as it was known, did little to “hide” the vessels themselves. Rather, its function was to confuse enemy aim by utilizing chaotic black-and-white patterns. Vintage photographs of these ships provide startling visuals of a kind of graphical warfare. At first glance, the extreme angles and cutout shapes conjure everything from European Modernist abstraction, Russian Constructivism, and colonial ethnic and tribal patterning, to later forms of Op art and design. As an artist researching these images, I began speculating on the side-effects of their routes as global visual transmitters of conquest and empire. What if these patterns, likened to war paint and symbolic markers of dominance, were altered to show their transmission onto other forms, such as modern architecture, commodities, and trade/transit routes—a sort of cross-pollination of hybridity and influence across cultures and continents? How can these patterns be employed by unexpected “clients” of economic and cultural colonialism? How can colonized forms misappropriate this visual technique for themselves? Speculative Propositions: A Visual Pattern Sampler is the result of this exploration.

Content for this article is available at MIT Press. It is available as: No Access/Subscription Only . Click here for more information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *