Stefan Riekeles: withdraw and shine

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- Andreas Broeckmann: The Naked Bandit in the Theatre of Visibilities

- Sabine Maria Schmidt: be prepared! tiger!

- Stefan Riekeles: withdraw and shine

- Giaco Schiesser: Passion 5 - an Event

- Stefan Wagner: Reading Purity Grade

- Felix Stalder: Tracing Translocality: BlackBenz Race

Stefan Riekeles
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 artefact.
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 the S-77CCR.
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 offers.
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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