It’s a rare case when a piece of sculpture means as much to the surrounding wildlife as it does to the humans who come to admire it. Such is the situation of Jason de Caires Taylor‘s underwater sculpture garden. Constructed out of concrete and steel, and bolted to the ocean substrate, the works here act as artificial reefs that provide “an ideal habitat for filter feeding organisms.”
Taylor’s sculptures are made of environmentally safe materials that encourage reef regrowth, and located on the ocean floor in areas that won’t harm existing ecosystems, thus allowing the much-damaged coral to regrow and create whole new ecosystems to support fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates.
The eery underwater presence of the life-size human sculptures involved in various activities (reading the paper; lounging in underwater gardens; maintaining an archive of messages in bottles) serves to distract the tourists, whose dives have thus far only worked to harm the Caribbean reefs, in order to prevent them from doing further damage.
Jason de Caires Taylor‘s underwater sculptures create a unique, absorbing and expansive visual seascape. Highlighting natural ecological processes Taylor’s interventions explore the intricate relationships that exist between art and environment. His works become artificial reefs, attracting marine life, while offering the viewer privileged temporal encounters, as the shifting sand of the ocean floor, and the works change from moment to moment.
Jason uses real people to create the “life casts” made from materials which encourage coral to grow. The sculptures have been made from a special type of cement, 10 times harder than normal
The slideshow images below are courtesy of Jason from his Silent Garden in progress project in Cancun, Mexico
Too see more detailed information and many more images covering Jason’s “Underwater Sculpture Park” projects – please continue reading here
Jason deCaires Taylor Projects
Moilinere bay is now home to sixty-five sculptures, covering an area of 800sq metres. It is located two miles north of the capital St Georges on the west coast of the island, within an area designated a National Marine Park. The bay is enclosed by rock headlands and has a small beach in one corner.
Moiliniere Bay suffered considerable storm damage in recent years and the placement of an artificial structure has provided a new base for marine life to proliferate. The sculptures were also designed to create a diversion from other areas of coral reef currently endangered by over use from water actvities
Collection of over 68 underwater sculptures located in Grenada and the UK all by sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. Video details the transformations of the pieces over a 2 year period.
The Lost Correspondent
The Lost Correspondent depicts a man sitting at a desk with a typewriter. The desk is covered with a collection of newspaper articles and cuttings that date back to the 1970s. Many of these have political significance, a number detail Grenada’s alignment with Cuba in the period immediately prior to the revolution. The work informs the rapid changes in communication between generations. Taking the form of a traditional correspondent, the lone figure becomes little more than a relic, a fossil in a lost world.
Grace Reef is a series of sixteen figures each cast from the body of a Grenadian woman. Located across an expansive underwater area the work draws marine life to an area that has suffered substantial decimation through sustained storm damage. The work reflects the continuing evolution of the island and its people, revealing itself in dramatic and dynamic ways. The direction and strengths of currents mean that entire sections of the work become covered, hidden and lost. At other times figures emerge and are fully visible.
Despite the fact that some of the pieces weigh as much as 15 tons, they are not impervious to the powers of the ocean. Taylor’s first work, Grace Reef, was torn to pieces by a hurricane. But such destruction is part of the point of Taylor’s work. As the sculptures interact with their underwater environment in unpredictable ways, the art becomes more interesting and more complex. Eventually they may disappear completely into the expansive blue gallery they inhabit
Vicissitudes depicts a circle of figures, all linked through holding hands. These are life-size casts taken from a group of children of diverse ethnic background. Circular in structure and located five meters below the surface, the work both withstands strong currents and replicates one of the primary geometric shapes, evoking ideas of unity and continuum.
The underwater environment is much like that of the outdoors. An object is subject to changes in light and prevailing weather conditions. The cement finish and chemical composition of Vicissitudes actively promotes the colonisation of coral and marine life. The figures are transformed over time by their environment, and conversely as this happens so they change the shape of their habitat. This natural process echoes the changes exacted through growing up. Social interchange shapes this process, while conversely as the product of a particular society we in turn invoke change on the workings and dynamics of that environment.
The sculpture proposes growth, chance, and natural transformation. It shows how time and environment impact on and shape the physical body. Children by nature are adaptive to their surroundings. Their use within the work highlights the importance of creating a sustainable and well-managed environment, a space for future generations. Taylor notes that close to forty percent of coral reefs worldwide has been destroyed and that this figure is set to increase. His work reminds us that the marine environment is in a constant state of flux, and that this in turn reflects poignantly the vicissitudes, changing landscapes, of our own lives.
A character from Jacob Ross’ short story, A Different Ocean from the book A Way to Catch the Dust (1999) Sienna is a young girl gifted in free diving. The story follows friendship and betrayal as her talent is exploited in the search for lost treasure. Taylor’s work Sienna takes its lead from this story. Its metal structure allows water currents to flow through the body of the sculpture creating an ideal habitat for filter feeding organisms. As the process of colonisation accelerates so Sienna gains physical substance. The work is ultimately created by the organisms that inhabit it, in the same way that a character in a book is given substance and temperament by the person reading it.
T.A. Marryshow Community College
In March 2007, a project was initiated with Helen Hayward of T.A. Marryshow Community College to produce a series of work for the Moliniere sculpture park.
Workshops were planned with A-level Art and Design students. Each student was required to produce a life cast of their face, to form an installation two metres deep around the shoreline of Moliniere Bay.
The project aimed to encourage local artists to contribute further works to the site and provide a arena for communities to appreciate and highlight the marine processes evident in their local environment.
The students were taught a range of skills including life-casting, cement casting and sculpting. The final pieces were installed by Jason on 25th April 2007
In 2009 the first steps of a monumental underwater museum called MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) were formed in the waters surrounding Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Punta Nizuc.
The project founded by Jaime Gonzalez Cano of The National Marine Park, Roberto Diaz of The Cancun Nautical Association and Jason deCaires Taylor, will consist of over 400 permanent life-size sculptures, becoming one of the largest and most ambitious underwater artificial attractions in the world.
The Museum aiming to demonstrate the interaction between art and environmental science forms a complex reef structure for marine life to colonise and inhabit. Each of the sculptures is made from specialized materials used to promote coral life, with the total installations occupying an area of over 420sq metres of barren sea bed and weighing over 180 tons.
Jason deCaires Taylor is now hard at work creating more than 400 life-size sculptures that will form the world’s largest underwater sculpture museum. Located off of Cancun — Mexico’s largest tourist destination — the waters where the sculptures are located are visited by over 750,000 people each year.
The Silent Evolution
His most ambitious work to date, is a collection of over 400 life-size figurative works forming a timeline of the changes both visually and socially in humans over the past centuries.
The plan was to use 200 statues but later it was decided to install 400 on the seabed, of which 350 have so far been anchored.
The third stage of the museum commencing in 2011 will involve commissioning local and international artists to contribute further sculptural installations and host special underwater cultural events celebrating the Arts and Science.
La Jardinera de la Esperanza (The Gardener of Hope)
La Jardinera de la Esperanza, depicts a young girl lying on garden patio steps, cultivating a variety of plant pots. The sculpture is sited four metres beneath the surface Punta Nizuc, Cancun. The pots are propagated with live coral cuttings rescued from areas of the reef system damaged by storms and human activity. This technique, a well-established procedure in reef conservation, rescues damaged coral fragments by providing a suitable new substrate.
The sculpture, a synthesis between art and science, conveys a message of hope and prosperity, portraying human intervention as positive and regenerating. The young Girl symbolizes a new, revitalized kinship with the environment, a role model for future generations. The interaction between the inanimate and living forms highlights a potential symbiotic relationship with the life systems of the underwater world. Over the past few decades we have lost over 40% of our natural coral reefs. Scientists predict a permanent demise of 80% by 2050. The Gardner of Hope is designed to focus attention on this important, often forgotten, ecological issue.
Built into the base of the sculpture are specialized habitat spaces designed to encourage individual types of marine creatures such as moray eels, juvenile fish and lobsters.
One of the sculptures is La Jardinera de la Esperanza (The Gardener of Hope). It features a young girl lying on a garden patio, surrounded by potted plants. When it is installed four meters below the surface, the work will include propagated coral in the empty pots. This well-established reef conservation technique will rescue damaged coral fragments by providing a suitable new substrate. The base incorporates habitat spaces for other marine creatures such as moray eels, small fish and lobsters.
“It all happens rather quickly – within two weeks, we will see green algae,” says artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who is in charge of the project. “Then within a few months, juvenile algae will appear and the project will progress from there.”
El Coleccionista de los Sueños Perdidos (The Archive of Lost Dreams)
The Archive of Lost Dreams depicts an underwater archive, maintained by a male registrar. The archive is a collection of hundreds of messages in bottles brought together by the natural forces of the ocean. The registrar is collating the individual bottles and categorising the contents according to the nature of each message – fear, hope, loss, or belonging.
Various communities from a broad spectrum of ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds have been invited to provide the messages, which, it is hoped, will document current values and aspirations for future generations to discover.
The sculpture is placed within an area of the national marine park, which had been previously damaged, by hurricanes and tropical storms. The choice of location aims to draw the high number of visitors to the region away from other sections of pristine reef allowing them space to develop naturally.
Hombre en Llamas (Man on Fire)
Man on fire depicts a lone figure standing upright and defiant. The sculpture is installed 8m deep in the clear Caribbean waters surrounding the island of Isla Mujeres at a location named Manchones.
The cement figure has 75 holes planted with live cuttings of fire coral (Millepora alcicorni ).This is a fast growing marine organism, yellow, orange and brown in colour which emits a painful stinging sensation when touched, thus reflecting its name and the title of the sculpture. It is anticipated that over time the figure will appear to be on fire underwater. The holes have been drilled on each profile of the body so that when the coral starts developing it will grow in pointed fingers resembling flames. Thus, when covered in coral and viewed from a distance there will appear the silhouette of a figure in flames. The fire coral has been sourced from fragments damaged by human activity or by tropical storms. A small proportion has also been artificially grown.
The statue, which weighs over 1 ton, is cast from a local Mexican fisherman called Joachim. The piece is intended to symbolize the current environmental situation in which we live. The man is on fire, burning but unaware of his situation, we too seem to be unaware of the impact that our actions are having on the planet on which we all live.
Our dependence on and over use of our limited natural resources, such as fossil fuels, has meant that we have been living on borrowed time. The fire is alight but we have the capabilities to control it, the current generation must rise to the challenge.
Set in the historic city of Canterbury, in association with Canterbury City Council, Alluvia is a sculpture consisting of two female figures, cast in cement and recycled glass resin. Positioned within sight of the Westgate Bridge and its adjoining gardens, the underwater sculptures lie along the river flow, submerged and fixed to the bed of the river Stour. At night the works are internally illuminated.
The title Alluvia relates to the alluvial deposits of sand left by the rise and fall of the rivers water levels. The Stour cuts through Canterbury, informing what could be described as a division between the past and present, between the old and the new city. The two contrasting figures are made from silica, an oxide of silicon, found in sand and quartz, the natural process of erosion questions the material properties of this widely used substance both highlighting and documenting the passage of time. The pieces also act as environmental barometers, algae accumulated on their surfaces are indicators of pollution within the county’s waterways from chemicals and phosphates used in modern agricultural farming.
The work draws reference to Sir John Everett Millais’s celebrated painting Ophelia (1851-1852). The pose of the figures and the materials used respond to the flow of water along the river and to the refracted colours of its fauna and substrate. As the surface tension and volume of water changes through the seasons, and the effects of light alter through the day, so what is seen of the sculptures changes. This fluctuation questions the stability of a material perceived to have permanence, and further challenges the recourse of memory, questioning how images and ideas constructed from fragments are presented. The work also encourages people to return to the site to recall and evaluate their altering experience of the work.
Inverted solitude is a lone figure suspended upside down beneath a floating platform in The National Diving and Activities Centre, Chepstow, UK. The site, originally a stone quarry, is the deepest inland body of water in England, reaching depths of over 80m. The pontoon where the sculpture is permanently fixed is currently used for national free diving competitions and training.
The sculpture, cast from BBC presenter Mike Fischetti and constructed from cement and fibreglass, was filmed as part of a production for SMART Art on the BBC network. The programme documented the process from initial casting to installation.
Inverted Solitude aims to explore reflection, space, isolation and extended being. When viewed from below, it reflects a mirror image onto the surface of the water, suggesting that a figure is standing on the platform staring down into the deep. This reversal of context aims to create a portal into our own world, revealing an alter presence.
The inverted and lonely demeanour of the figure shows a man distanced from society. Arms folded resolutely, he is left to reflect on a life in which pride and self obsession have created an impenetrable barrier.
Un-Still Life II
Created as part of the Municipality of Paliani Stone Symposium in Crete, Greece, in the summer of 2008, Un-Still Life II continues the theme of growth and organic transformation.
The sculpture was carved from a single block of Travertine stone, the central area of which was removed to create a chamber which was then filled with soil and compost. Nine hundred holes were drilled from the external face of the sculpture to the central chamber and filled with earth and seeds from native plant species. Next year when spring approaches a citrus tree will be planted in the large opening at the centre of the piece.
Like its underwater counterpart, which has been changed, marked and eaten by coral and other marine organisms, Un-Still Life II will also be transformed and brought alive by the growth of the plant material. This land-based observation is intended to highlight differences between marine and land evolutionary cycles. The ironic Un-Still Life II will perpetually change with the seasons, providing a stark contrast between the inanimate stone and the fertile plant growth.
Un-Still Life mirrors the classical composition of traditional still life tableaux. On a table is an arrangement of cement objects, a vase, bowl and fruit. In contrast to established ideas of stasis the work is perpetually changing, remaining a work in progress as layers build on its surface. This accumulated colonisation of coral becomes a physical equivalent to conventional mark making of drawing and painting. The work reflects the time-based observation associated with the classical study of still life composition. It reminds us that changes are inevitable
Jason deCaires Taylor was born in 1974 to an English father and Guyanese mother, spending the earlier part of his life growing up in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.
Educated in South East England, he graduated in 1998 from Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London, with a B.A.Honours in Sculpture and Ceramics.
He is also a fully qualified diving instructor, underwater naturalist and award winning underwater photographer, with over 14 years of diving experience in various countries.
In May 2006 he gained international recognition for creating the world’s first underwater sculpture park in Grenada, West Indies. His underwater sculptures, designed to create artificial reefs for marine life to colonise and inhabit, embrace the transformations wrought by ecological processes.
The works engage with a vision of the possibilities of a sustainable future, portraying human intervention as positive and affirmative. Drawing on the tradition of figurative imagery, the aim of Jason deCaires Taylor’s work is to address a wide-ranging audience crucial for highlighting environmental issues beyond the confines of the art world. However, fundamental to understanding his work is that it embodies the hope and optimism of a regenerative, transformative Nature.
Jason is currently resident in Mexico as Artistic Director of the new Cancun Underwater Museum.
Jason deCaires Taylor is a man of many identities whose work resonates with the influences of his eclectic life. Growing up in Europe and Asia with his English father and Guyanese mother nurtured his passion for exploration and discovery. Much of his childhood was spent on the coral reefs of Malaysia where he developed a profound love of the sea and a fascination with the natural world.
This would later lead him to spend several years working as a scuba diving instructor in various parts of the globe, developing a strong interest in conservation, underwater naturalism and photography. His bond with the sea remains a constant throughout Taylor’s life though other key influences are found far from the oceans.
During his teenage years, work as a graffiti artist fired his interest in the relationship between art and the environment, fostering an ambition to produce art in public spaces and directing the focus of his formal art training. He graduated in 1998 from the London Institute of Arts, with a B.A. Honours in Sculpture and Ceramics. Later, experience in Canterbury Cathedral taught him traditional stone carving techniques whilst five years working in set design and concert installations exposed him to cranes, lifting, logistics and completing projects on a grand scale.
With this range of experiences he was equipping himself with the skills required to execute the ambitious underwater projects that have made his name. Carving cement instead of stone and supervising cranes while in full scuba gear to create artificial reefs submerged below the surface of the Caribbean Sea, the various strands of his diverse life resolve themselves convincingly in the development of his underwater sculptures. These ambitious, public works have a practical, functional aspect, facilitating positive interactions between people and fragile underwater habitats.