Paul Malone : Projects : Mud Coral Camouflage

'Mud Coral Camouflage'. Still from movie. 2021. 03:00
This movie came about as a collaborative suggestion by Creative Reactions with the zoologist Eduardo Bessa from the University of Brasillia

Initially I was one of 3 artists to be contacted by Eduardo and treated to a Powerpoint presentation about his work on the mating strategies of fish. Many of the images were taken from the coral environment of the tropics where he lives.

What interested me was the different camouflage patterns of fish relating to the different strata in the sea. On the bottom the fish adopted patterns similar to the rocks, sediment and corals so they could not be spotted from above. In the mid section of the water were fish that adopted dazzle patterns to break up their profile and confuse predators especially if they were in shoals. Finally there were those fish that swam near the surface, as these were silhouetted against the sky were silvered to blend with the shiny sky.

My studio is in an artist block on the banks of Deptford Creek in London. This is a somewhat distopian waterway confined within mooring walls and with a muddy bottom scattered with bricks, tyres and other urban detritus. Although far away from the pristine coral reefs in Eduardo's presentation I began to be taken by the conceptual similarities of the camouflage potential. What if the tropical environment could be translated to that of a muddy urban creek in the middle of winter?

This proved to be one of the more difficult projects that I had been involved in. The Creek is directly over the flight path to Heathrow with the planes arriving in batches every 3 minutes or so. This immediately presented itself as an analogy for the silvered fish looking up. However I had to track the planes with the camera so had to be ready when they arrived. In this the 24hr radar tracker was invaluble.

To get into the Creek we have a 7 mtr vertical maintenance ladder from the top of the yard wall. This is dangerous in itself but should one fall or be disabled there is a 5 mtr tide that comes in twice a day to finish the job. At first I was going to paint a pair of wellingtons to look like bottom fish but in the end I thought that what better mud camouflage than to be a wellington boot! So I paced a few hundred metres filming my boots walking against the debris layer and mud of the bottom. Being in winter it was frustrating to get both the light and tide levels to synchronize.

The intermediate 'dazzle' layer was the hardest to analogise. In the end I relied on heavily processed night clips from the avian life there - see if you can spot which type.


  Click 'Play Movie' to view

Stills below : click to enlarge