Taking art off of the white walls of a gallery offers the viewer a sense of discovery, a sense of participation and the opportunity to detach your imagination from the confines of the terrestrial world. – Jason deCaires Taylor
WHILE TRAVELING and working abroad as a diving instructor, British-Guyanese artist Jason deCaires Taylor recognized an opportunity to re-engage people with the vast, mysterious and often-forgotten aquatic underworld. He poured his deep longing to create functional art and his passion for marine conservation into founding the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park in the West Indies in 2006. The gallery assembles a series of sculptural interpretations of local culture through life-sized figures and faces embedded in coral and rock, and has been lauded by the likes of Vogue, National Geographic and Discovery Channel.
Inspired by this achievement, the Mexican Government contacted Taylor and commissioned a more ambitious project in Cancun. Opened in 2009, the Museo Subacuático de Arte converted barren seabed into a submerged attraction featuring 450 sculptures, all designed using a pH-neutral material to promote coral growth and provide habitat for thousands of fish, lobsters and other species. The sculptures also aim to usher in a new era of tourism, one of cultural and environmental awareness, and have diverted some portion of Cancun’s tourist droves away from natural reefs, which are often damaged by anchors and inexperienced divers.
Anthropocene is a specially tailored lobster home that weighs about eight tonnes.
“Before, I used to make art installations at exhibitions and afterwards, I would have to store all the sculptures,” says Taylor. “It was really demotivating, just creating more mass for the planet – it already has so much. It never really sat well with me.” Creating artful reef and habitat space continues to intrigue him because “the more I learn about the underwater environment, the more I am able to tailor my sculptures, use different techniques and improve their functionality.”
Taylor is tight-lipped about the details of his latest creation, which will be unveiled at the Museo Subacuático de Arte in August. He will only divulge that the piece weighs 100 tonnes and is five metres tall, so that it reaches from the ocean floor to the surface and is capable of withstanding the constant pressure of wave cycles.
“Art plays a really important role in environmental activism,” says Taylor, adding that it’s uniquely capable of engaging people’s emotions and changing attitudes. “A lot of us know the facts on climate change. Scientists are always talking about threats and all these different things that are happening to our oceans, but somehow people disassociate themselves from it.”
By contrast, Taylor relinquishes control of his creations to the living ecosystems where they reside, connecting human invention to its vast potential for positive transformation.
A detail from The Silent Evolution shows the progression from model to sculpture (installed in 2010) to reef (in 2012).
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