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The Disorient Express

Tauba’s design, which features dynamic swirls of red and white splashed in jagged loops across the boat’s components, is modeled after a World War I maritime technique known as “dazzle camouflage.” Inspired by the avant-garde movements of the time, namely Cubism and Futurism, dazzle camouflage strove not to hide but to disorient, painted onto Ally ships to help them evade enemy attacks. Their spliced-up motifs and chaotic arrangements made them nearly impossible for enemies to target them with any accuracy, the tendencies of emergent abstract art movements lending themselves to the war effort in a bizarre but fortuitous twist.


“Dazzle is an unlikely kind of camouflage,” Tauba said before the boat’s inaugural trip. “It's not about hiding; it's about outwitting and confusing. It approaches a problem from the side, not from the front, which is something I think artists often have to offer.”


But Tauba took the concept even further than her 20th-century predecessors, incorporating the history of the John J. Harvey itself and drawing on fluid mechanics to inspire her design. The boat’s current decor is actually a scrambled version of the vessel’s traditional paint job, accomplished through the marbling process of dragging various combs through ink floating in fluid. What’s more, its main flag bears a red and white diagram of flow separation, a type of turbulence whereby the water behind a moving object flows backwards, forming a pattern of eddies. Tauba’s motif draws on aquatic references at every level, from its oyster-like concentric curves all the way down to the foundation on which the design is based.


“Decorative arts like paper marbling often contain wisdom about concepts like physics and the laws of nature,” Tauba explained. “A skilled marbler understands viscosity, sheer, and surface tension, but in a haptic rather than analytical way.” In other words, her undertaking is both a fusing and an extension of the many phenomena she’s working with: science, design, history, experience, and legacy.


In many ways, the dazzled John J. Harvey is an ode to the cyclical nature of our world, the way that time can fold back on itself and collapse the boundaries between art and life. More simply, it’s a much more exciting way to go see the Statue of Liberty (the ride includes a short water show employing the Harvey’s original fire-extinguishing features). If you’re worried about safety, fear not—even the life vests are dazzled.


Find out how to get tickets to Flow Separation here.

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