Jason deCaires Taylor Creates Underwater Art to Save the Seas

Jason deCaires Taylor

Dive into the ocean to find the bold, breathtaking and transformational sculptures of Jason deCaires Taylor.

Jason deCaires Taylor is a sculptor, photographer, diver and, most importantly, environmentalist. Since 2006, when he created the world’s first underwater sculpture park in the waters off Grenada, Taylor has used his craft as a breathtaking message board alerting the world to issues such as climate change, the perils of technology and the role of humanity as stewards of the planet and each other.

Jason deCaires TaylorCourtesy of Jason Taylor.

Growing up in Europe and Asia, the British-Guyanese artist learned to dive at an early age. Combining his love of diving with his artistic sensibilities, Taylor began using his art as social and ecological statements by creating sculpture parks under the sea. Jason deCaires Taylor is currently working on an installation in Lanzarote, a Spanish island that is part of the Canary Islands. Other sculpture parks are located in the Bahamas and Mexico, and several of his smaller-scale projects are found around the world.

Jason deCaires TaylorReclamation, MUSA Collection, Punta Nizuc, Mexico. Photo by Jason deCaires Taylor.

Art to Promote Life

With specialized pH-neutral marine cement designed to attract marine life, each sculpture evolves over time as the sea takes control of the art, transforming it from a man-made creation to a living, breathing organism. Choosing the site for each installation is a lengthy and involved process. As Taylor explained, “It can take generally a year to work out. Obviously each one is unique and has its own environments, concerns and processes. Even Spain — it took us well over a year. We had to do numerous studies and consultations with the communities: the fishing community, the diving community, environmental departments. So it’s a range of things. It’s finding an area that’s completely barren of marine life; we don’t want to impact anything that’s already there. But we also need to find a place that’s accessible and also well protected. The sea is quite a volatile place.”

Jason deCaires TaylorThe Dream Collector, MUSA Collection, Cancun / Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Photo by Jason deCaires Taylor.

Once submerged, the artwork’s transformation begins almost immediately. Within weeks of his first installation, organic growth had already begun to take place on the sculpture. The new inhabitants on the artwork are varied. Sponges and algae attach, coral reefs form, and fish begin to populate the installations, creating new ecosystems while lessening the stress on established ones.

Thinking Globally, Working Locally

Aside from the environmental aspect of Taylor’s work, the scope of his vision and the beauty of the sculptures are extraordinary. Depending on the size of the project, Jason deCaires Taylor will open a studio close to the installation site. “If it’s large-scale I try to live on the site and that way the place embodies itself in my work, instead of me just coming along with my ideas and presenting them.”

Jason deCaires TaylorViccisitudes, Grenada, West Indies. Photo by Jason deCaires Taylor.

While Taylor uses local models to keep the sculptures relevant to the area, finding the right people to sculpt is another process. He explained, “Sometimes I have a specific type of person that I’m out to get. Sometimes I’ll advertise. Social media is very effective. Sometimes I’ll go out looking for people in public areas, but other times it could be completely by chance. I could be out working or sitting in a restaurant or on a bus and see someone and think they will really work for a piece. In the beginning of a project it’s usually quite tough, but once the project has become quite established, people start to hear about it and read about it and then it gets a lot easier. But I’ve had some very bizarre conversations, especially in other languages. Trying to convince someone to come to your studio is not easy.”

Jason deCaires TaylorThe Silent Evolution awaiting installation, MUSA Collection, Cancun / Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Photo by Jason deCaires Taylor.

Art Becomes Alive

As a spectator watching videos where the sculptures are submerged, a touch of melancholy quickly sets in. Does the artist feel a tinge of sadness watching them sink to the seabed? “Sadness — a little bit, yes. The work is quite monumental in my studio. We put a lot of work into it and the studio is packed with activity. Then we clear everything out and there is a slight sadness seeing the place empty again. You get attached to them. But once they become submerged, they really become alive. They change and become something different. I do a lot of solo diving and it’s really nice to spend a lot of time observing and seeing what’s happening and how they’re changing. Perhaps the only sadness for me right now is, because I’ve done these things in various parts of the world, it’s almost impossible to track them and see how they’re changing. As I take on new projects, I have less time to go back and see some of the past ones.”

Jason deCaires TaylorThe Dream Collector, MUSA Collection, Cancun / Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Photo by Jason deCaires Taylor.

One of his past projects, the Dream Collector, depicts a man deep in thought, writing on a desk where real bottles are filled with notes containing the dreams and aspirations of children from the United States and England, fishermen from Malaysia, and other people from around the world. Taylor has collected these notes over a year’s time.

Jason deCaires TaylorThe Raft of Lampedusa,  Museo Atlantico, Lanzarote, Spain. Photo by Jason deCaires Taylor.

One of his sculptures recently installed in Lanzarote, The Raft of Lampedusa, portrays a life raft filled with refugees and is meant to illustrate how we are all part of a global community and have a responsibility to each other.

A recent temporary project brought Taylor’s work to London when the artist installed The Rising Tide in the Thames River. The work was a commentary on the impact of fossil fuels, and it was one of the few projects which could be viewed, during low tide, without diving gear and an oxygen tank.

Jason deCaires TaylorThe Rising Tide, Thames foreshore, Vauxhall embankment, Central London. Photo by Jason deCaires Taylor.

In 2015, Taylor gave a TED talk where he spoke of the need to protect the oceans. Two of the most striking images he showed were that of a calm sea, how we usually visualize the ocean, and the next was under the surface of the ocean, where an abundance of sea life was visible. That stark contrast is part of the problem in conservation efforts and is the reason Jason deCaires Taylor is creating museums in the sea.

Museums are places where things that are precious are collected and saved from destruction. By installing his artwork in the ocean, Jason deCaires Taylor is drawing attention to the sanctity of the sea and our need to preserve and nurture it.

For those who aren’t divers, Taylor’s website contains photos of his ever-growing catalogue of work. end

 

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