withdraw and shine
tiger_stealth is a project by Knowbotic Research in cooperation
with Peter Sandbichler. It was first presented in April 2006 in
the harbour of Duisburg (Germany) as part of the installation Be
prepared! Tiger! during the exhibition "Designing the Truth".
The project tiger_stealth takes its point of departure from a video
produced by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or for short, the
Tamil Tigers, which was published on a website. Two soldiers are
manoeuvring their boat along an abundantly overgrown river bank.
A steersman and his colleague are boastfully posing for the camera
with their rifles. Machine guns are mounted on the boat's bow, underpinning
the poses with military force. The shape of the boat is reminiscent
of the stealth bombers deployed by the US Air Force. Despite the
poor quality of the video footage, one is able to recognize the
polygonal design which is typical for crafts that use stealth technology,
a passive weapon aimed at reducing a vehicle's visibility to radar.
Based on the video images, Knowbotic Research and engineer Peter
Sandbichler traced the exact shape of the boat in order to design
a similar vehicle. In the design process the artists paid great
attention to achieving effective camouflage from radar. The hull
was made of wood and aluminium. Equipped with a silent engine the
boat is actually invisible to radar. A radar system that is mounted
at a viewpoint close to the harbour basin as part of the "be
prepared! tiger!" installation, 'proves' the stealth qualities.
Radar (RAdio Detecting And Ranging) is a positioning system based
on electro-magnetic waves. Developed during the 1930s for military
purposes, it is used to detect and locate objects as well as to
determine their current movement, trajectory and speed. A radar
system sends waves in a specific direction into space. Similarly
to sound waves, radar waves generate echoes when they are refracted
by an object. These echoed signals are registered by an antenna.
By displaying the received data as coordinates of objects on a screen,
radar visualises information which might otherwise not be accessible
to the human senses. Because of this process of visualisation, radar
is also called an imaging technology. The boat built by the artists
elides this representation by wearing its camouflaging hood.
The concept of stealth itself is not new. Being able to operate
without the knowledge of the enemy has always been a goal of military
technology and techniques. However "stealth technology"
redesigns the vehicle itself in order to reduce its observability.
Significant for the design of a stealth craft is the so called stealth
angle. This angle defines the orientation of a surface so that impinging
radar waves are least reflected back to the source. Curves and right
angles are especially unfavourable to this stealth effect. In order
to forward and diffuse the radar waves the surface area is divided
into polygonal faces. The characteristic shape of the vehicle is
defined precisely by the technical requirements. The resulting multi-angular
structure of the hull gives the boat the appearance of a faceted
It is the special geometry that potentiates the vehicle and allows
for its camouflage. An interesting functional aspect of the radar
system is that, instead of only receiving waves which are reflected
from an object directly, it emits energy itself. Radar waves are
dispatched from a source in order to cause echoes. Radar is a reflexive
system. In terms of modality,"radio detection" resembles
touch more than vision, although it is not sensitive to texture.
For the artists' craft withdrawal from the radar's touch is made
possible by a geometric stratagem. The vehicle appears to be untouchable
for the radar beam. Its sharp-edged cap allows the boat to slip
through the radar's groping fingers.
In the negative relation between radar and vehicle the detecting
waves function as a shaping die, a form shaping the boat. In return,
the shape of tiger_stealth is a negative blueprint of the radar
controlled space. The spatial logic of radar is rendered visible,
yet fragmented in the precisely shaped facets of the twinkling aluminium
hull. Radar space is reflected as its shadow in the aluminium surface
of the boat. The US Navy takes up the opposite perspective when
they name a stealth warship Sea Shadow. This vessel is the direct
military counterpart to tiger_stealth and has a very similar shape.
Yet, the warship outperforms Knowbotic Research's nutshell significantly
in size, range and power. Additionally Sea Shadow is coated with
a matt finish in order to keep it as unobtrusive as possible. In
contrast tiger_stealth's shiny surface blinks in the sunlight and
literally forms a visual spectacle. Even if this may interfere with
a potential military deployment, it is very productive for the mission
of tiger_stealth. The appearance of the boat reflects its different
modes of visibility to radar-augmented vision and to the naked human
eye. Conspicuity and camouflage refract in the geometric metal surface
of the boat. This way the vehicle refers to the different spaces
in which it effectively operates. The facets of the hull display
how radar space and visual field superimpose and permeate each other.
The public sphere is crucially constituted by visibility. However,
today's ubiquitous surveillance systems suggest that to appear in
public is now itself stigmatised. In the perspective of a superior
inspector, visibility enables control and consequently increases
security. But to show up in a public space then means to become
a potential source of danger. One does not need to be particularly
paranoid to imagine oneself as a target in the focus of the monitoring
power. The desire for civil camouflage or a protective shield comes
as no surprise.
tiger_stealth provides such a protection. Its user has the chance
to avoid being detected by radar and to withdraw from an area of
surveillance and control. The boat's camouflage bestows partial
topographical indefiniteness and allows for free manoeuvres in an
environment controlled by radar. Thus an area kept under surveillance
is partially transformed, by the stealth shape of the boat, into
a freely accessible domain. However there is a price to pay for
this freedom of movement. Such liberty of action demands civil armament.
Even though stealth technology can be regarded as a "passive"
technology, it is a weapon. To operate a stealth vehicle in civil
space therefore implies the militarisation of this space. The project
S-77CCR (System-77 Civil Counter-Reconnaissance) by Marko Peljhan
and his Projekt Atol is aiming at a similar armament of civil forces,
though using a more "active" technology.1 S-77CCR is based
on an unmanned aircraft which is equipped with surveillance technology.
The drone is designed for "civil counter-reconnaissance"
in public space. S-77CCR and tiger_stealth both stress the notions
of civil resistance and the appropriation of technological know-how
by artists and activists. However, a deployment of the crafts also
implies the affirmation of a military logic. It is the same logic
that is at work in the civil war the Tamil Tigers are fighting.
Yet, as we will see in a moment, there is a significant difference
between S-77CCR and tiger_stealth.
The shape of the tiger_stealth boat suggests military virility.
Although the technical requirements of the stealth technology had
long been a well treasured military secret, most of the information
necessary to build a stealth craft is now publicly available. What
remains of the former secret is the myth and the aura of a technological
prodigy that go along with the characteristic shape. Several stagings
of "stealth" crafts latch on to this myth and contribute
to it. The blockbuster movie "Stealth - Under the Radar"
(USA, 2005) features aircrafts which resemble the legendary F117
stealth bomber used by the US Air Force. The machines supposedly
accelerate to 6 times sonic speed in a few seconds and dominate
their territory with a global operating range. In the James Bond
movie "Tomorrow Never Dies" (GB/USA, 1997) a reproduction
of the already mentioned warship Sea Shadow is used by Bond's mighty
opponent. The geometric shape of these crafts has become an icon
of military force.
Although the Tamil Tiger's boat shows a shape which is similar to
the US military stealth vehicles, it is very likely detectable by
radar. With the mounted machine guns, the open deck and the motor
lying outside it will reflect enough radar waves to be traceable
in the jungle. It is obviously constructed to benefit from the iconographic
value of its shape. Just as tiger_stealth. Like a glaring bullet
it is anchored in the harbour basin. Amongst the chubby tubs and
yachts it stands out by its sharp edges. However, it comes across
as strangely fragile and flimsy. Knowbotic Research shot a video
sequence featuring their boat cruising along the river bank in the
Danube marshes near Vienna, Austria. The sequence is nearly 3 minutes
in length and shows the boat approaching the camera from a far distance,
coming closer and finally disappearing out of frame. In contrast
to the original video by the Tamil Tigers, the re-enactment shows
a vessel that is impressively slow. The boat actually sneaks stealthily
through the scenery. Its appearance is more contemplative than aggressive.
Whereas the Tamil Tigers make a show of their questionable weaponry,
tiger_stealth startles by its radical slowness. This craft is obviously
not designed for attack. It is solely constructed with respect to
its stealthiness and cannot support a heroic pose. This is the major
difference to the S-77CCR aircraft which is designed to actually
empower civilians in a military sense. tiger_stealth does not only
withdraw from the radar beam but also from the logic of power demonstration
and the show of force in which the Tamil Tigers are caught as is
By offering the boat up for sale on an internet platform, Knowbotic
Research finally extend the vehicle's field of operation to the
economic realm. On the website of a boat shop, the craft appears
in a state of temporary availability. Here again its spectacular
shape comes into play. Its glittering surface combined with the
promise of invisibility might well attract a customer. Whoever can
muster enough financial power can acquire the potential that tiger_stealth
Knowbotic Research are manoeuvring their vehicle through a multi-layered
scenario of (in)visibility and power. The boat traverses a port
basin, river banks, radar space, mass media fiction, and finally
appears on the public market. In each of these domains it operates
in another mode of visibility. Conspicuously twinkling it lies in
the harbour. Camouflaged by the thicket it creeps along the Danube
river bank. Disappearing completely from the radar's screen it returns
with iconographic power as a media phantom just to show up briefly
on a website before it is bought and disappears again. Between stealthy
withdrawal and spectacular presence tiger_stealth oscillates in
a complex topology. If it is a weapon at all, then it is a sharp
blade. Its keen edges slice through the manifold areas of its operation.
In the faceted aluminium hull the resulting fragments assume a definite
form. The boat is an interface to the spatial structure of its manoeuvre.
It is not a warship but a spaceship.
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