All Aboard: Tauba Auerbach’s Flow Separation

All Aboard: Tauba Auerbach’s Flow Separation

For artist Tauba Auerbach, the idea of dimensionality and perception are constantly being explored. Flow Separation is no exception, as Auerbach draws inspiration from fluid dynamics and forms found in wake patterns created as objects move through water. Curious to learn more, The 10,000 ventured to Brooklyn and aboard the historic Fireboat John J. Harvey to experience Auerbach’s work first hand. Later we spoke with Flow Separation’s curator Emma Enderby about Auerbach’s work and its significance in today’s diverse cultural landscape.

What does Flow Separation mean? The fireboat’s design is based on fluid dynamics. “Flow separation” is the phenomenon when areas of fluid in a wake move backwards, creating eddies. While the main design does not illustrate this type of movement, the fireboat does fly a flag diagramming “flow separation”.

What is the significance of choosing the Fireboat John J Harvey as the ‘canvas’ for Flow Separation? We were happy to partner with the Fireboat John J. Harvey, as our missions are really aligned. Public Art Fund has been bringing free art to the public for over 40 years. The fireboat was built in 1931, decommissioned in the 90s and then became a non-for-profit with a mission to educate people about the historic vessel and offer free rides. The boat is also a New York icon: she was a hero of 9/11, being called back into service to pump water for 80 hours. We really loved the idea of being able to partner with the boat and offer free tours during the summer on it. It just makes the experience so special.

What sentiment does Auerbach’s work aim to convey? The project has numerous entry points. On one hand it connects people to an important moment in (art) history, a moment where ingenuity sprung from avant-garde painting methods. The project also connects people to a devastating war, a time which should not be forgotten. By the time dazzle camouflage came into effect, in the most active periods, an average of 8 ships a day were being sunk — contributing to the over 37 million lives lost in the 4-year world war. Auberbach was also really interested in the idea that dazzle was about confusing, or outsmarting over hiding, something which feels relevant today. With our surveillance heavy world, hiding is no longer possible. Various methods have been developed — including by artists — to hide in plain sight. Artist Adam Harvey and Hyphen-Labs developed a complex set of patterns which appear to have facial features. The design can be printed onto clothing with the intention of exploiting how facial-recognition algorithms work, confusing surveillance technology and turning it against itself.

How significant are the ideas of motion and movement for Flow Separation? Auerbach’s dazzle pattern draws inspiration from fluid dynamics: the flow of fluids. The artist was specifically interested in the forms found in wake patterns left behind objects as they move through water. What’s interesting about the fireboat, is that water not only flows behind/alongside, but also through the body of the vessel itself. Auerbach created her designs through the process of marbling paper — floating inks on a fluid bath and combing the surface before transferring the pigment to paper. By dragging the marbling comb forward and backward through the floating paint, she created a visualization of fluid dynamics, which also had the effect of directional confusion: a traditional notion in dazzle camouflage technique which plays with the motion and movement of the vessel.

What can a viewer expect to experience sailing aboard the fireboat? Tauba worked with scene painters to realize her design, and so you will experience a meticulously detailed, hand-painted artwork. Visitors will also enjoy a lovely free ride on the water, learn about the history of the fireboat, of dazzle camouflage, and experience the fireboat’s amazing water display.

What is a “dazzle ship”, and how does it relate to Auerbach’s work? Invented during World War I, dazzle camouflage was painted onto thousands of ships both in the U.K. and U.S. Its development is credited to the British marine artist Norman Wilkinson, who in 1917 claimed that painting ships with geometric shapes in contrasting colors — interrupting and intersecting each other — would make it difficult for enemy vessels to target them. Taking cues from both animal camouflage and avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism, dazzle — unlike traditional camouflage — was used to confuse and disorient ships rather than to conceal or hide. PAF and 14-18NOW co-commissioned the artist Tauba Auberach to transform the historic Fireboat John J. Harvey into a contemporary “dazzle ship.”

What drew the Public Art Fund to commission this project specifically? I started talking to Jenny Waldman at 14-18 NOW nearly two years ago about collaborating to bring a dazzle ship to New York City. 14-18 NOW had been dazzling ships in the U.K. as part of their program, but the history of dazzle is also very much tied to New York. When the U.S. joined the war in 1917, they soon started dazzling ships, some in New York’s harbors. At the time it really captured the imagination of New Yorkers, the general public and art critics alike! We thought it would be a great opportunity to connect New Yorkers again to this forgotten history.

Photographs by Nicholas Knight, courtesy Public Art Fund, NY.

Fireboat John J. Harvey During a Water Display

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