Jason deCaires Taylor is an internationally acclaimed sculptor who creates underwater living installations, offering viewers mysterious, ephemeral encounters and fleeting glimmers of another world where art develops from the effects of nature on the efforts of man. His site-specific, permanent works are designed to act as artificial reefs, attracting corals, increasing marine biomass and aggregating fish species, while crucially diverting tourists away from fragile natural reefs and thus providing space for natural rejuvenation. Subject to the abstract metamorphosis of the underwater environment, his works symbolize a striking symbiosis between man and nature, balancing messages of hope and loss.
Taylor’s sculptures change over time with the effects of their environment. These factors create a living aspect to the works, which would be impossible to reproduce artificially. As time passes and the works develop biological growth, they redefine the underwater landscape, evolving within the narrative of nature.
Taylor’s interventions instigate organic growth and transformation. Taylor states, “It’s environmental evolution, art intervention as growth, or a balancing of relationships.” Taylor’s most ambitious work to date — The Silent Evolution (2012), forms a permanent monumental artificial reef in Mexico. Occupying an area of over 420 square meters and with a total weight of over 200 tons, it consists of 400 life-size casts of individuals taken from a broad cross section of humanity and has been designed to aggregate fish and corals on a grand scale. Slowly but surely these sculptures are evolving, a fur of algae on a girl’s cheek, a starfish on a nun’s face, The Silent Evolution reveals the imperceptible changes of nature on human artifice. Eventually this underwater society will be totally assimilated by marine life, transformed to another state—a challenging metaphor for the future of our own species.
Loss and fragility are another inherent theme of Taylor’s work, the impetus behind his creation of underwater sculpture Museums and many of his individual works. He explains, “Over the last 20 years, our generation has encountered rapid change; technologically, culturally and geographically. I feel this has left us with an underlying sense of loss. My work tries to record some of those moments.” The Lost Correspondent (2006) echoes these sentiments. Immersed at a depth of 8 meters in Grenada, a man sits at his desk, his hands hovering over the typewriter, poised in eternal deliberation. He is a forgotten relic, like his typewriter—an antique, superseded by modern technology.
Taylor’s sculptures—a synthesis of art and science—are made with carefully researched environmentally-friendly materials which actively promote coral growth, with inert Ph neutral properties designed to last hundreds of years. Working with Marine biologists, Taylor employs the latest research in creating habitat spaces designed to encourage specific forms of marine life. In The Anthropocene (2011), a life size replica of the classic Volkswagan Beetle encloses a “Lobster City”, designed to attract crustaceans. Inercia (2011) depicts a man on a couch watching television, ignorant of our environmental crisis; yet the television provides a habitat space for juvenile fish. Man on Fire (2009) and The Gardener (2009) have both been propagated with corals rescued after tropical storms or damaged by human activity. Anthropocene and Inertia both “explore the significant impact humans have had on our planet’s ecosystems and the subsequent effect to future generations,” balancing a potent message with a regenerative purpose.
Although constituting only 8% of our oceans, shallow seas contain most of the marine life on planet earth. By situating his sculptures in clear, shallow, barren areas, Taylor not only replicates the conditions necessary to stimulate coral growth but ensures divers, snorkelers and those aboard glass bottom boats the opportunity to view his works. Underwater, everything is magnified by 25%, light refracts, colors are changed and—as the only light source comes from the surface—kaleidoscopic effects are produced, governed by currents and turbulence. Taylor states, “Taking art off of the white walls of a gallery offers the viewer a sense of discovery and participation.” Underwater, one has a truly multi-dimensional and multi- sensual experience, free from the confines of gravity and offering a viewing perspective that is both intimate and personal.
Over the past few decades, we have lost over 40% of our natural coral reefs. Scientists predict a permanent demise of 80% by 2050. Jason de Caires Taylor’s art is an example of generative human intervention in the ecosystem, showing what can be accomplished by individual imagination and collective effort. Taylor’s strategy of conserving reefs, opposes the “land as commodity” mentality of Capitalism. His creation of underwater sculpture parks attracts tourists away from natural reefs, allowing them to recover, and taps into tourism revenue, showing how activists might be able to use the system’s rapacious tendencies against itself. His exceptional works are designed “to promote the regeneration of marine life and to use sculpture as a means of conveying hope and awareness of the plight of our oceans” before it is too late.
- James Buxton