From Form to Formlessness: The Strategy of the Octopus


It is well known that the octopus is a master of deception: they can adopt the form of a stone, for example, to hide from irksome sights. But they are not simply content with being invisible and watching their surroundings through a watchful eye. They are also masters of metamorphosis, heroes of metis, capable of inhabiting the place, form and color of a sea snake, a scorpionfish or a turbot so effectively, that we almost forget their usual appearance. In the end, they are polupaipalos – tricksters, convertible, complex, slippery. Nature has furnished octopuses ideally for this role: without bones or cartilage, five hundred million neurons along each of their eight arms. In short, the literally bodyless octopus is made for polymorphism.
What, then, can octopuses teach us about the art of camouflage? Maybe, that appearance and disappearance are primarily a question of form, body, flesh – form in the sense of Merleau-Ponty, as he described it in his work note: „A form that descends from polymorphism, places us completely outside any philosophy of subject and object“ (The Visible and the Invisible).


Patricia Ribault started her career in design, ceramics and glassblowing and her research interests cover the fields of design, craft, art, body, work, technology, industry. Since 2011 she has also been leading a master’s seminar at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris. At Weißensee Academy of Arts, she strengthens teaching and research as professor for “Performative Design Research” in the Department of Theory and History. Before this, she was Junior Professor for History and Theory of Gestaltung at the Institute for Cultural History and Theory at Humboldt-University Berlin, where she was involved in the Cluster of Excellence “Image Knowledge Gestaltung”, the forerunner of “Matters of Activity”, for which she is also a Principal Investigator.