This summer, British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor is at work on an unusual environmental art project: creating what will be the world’s largest underwater sculpture park in Cancun, Mexico. The park will consist of over 400 human figures – all created by taking body molds of Cancun locals, casting sculptures out of cement, sand and fiberglass, and then affixing them to the sea floor in shallow water. Over 200 sculptures will be put in place this month, and another 200 are scheduled to be sunk by December 2010, when the Museum of Underwater Art (MUSA) officially opens.
But the project is more than just art: the banks of sculptures will double as an artificial reef, promoting tourism and a healthy marine ecosystem simultaneously. Coral and fish will eventually colonize the new park by taking up residence in the folds and cracks of the sculptures. The attraction will also divert tourists away from natural reefs and allow them to regenerate. And part of the goal is educational: through repeat visits, snorkeling or on glass-bottomed boats, visitors can watch the evolution of the reef as creatures move in and transform the artworks.
Taylor got the idea for this project in September of 2004, after Hurricane Ivan passed through the Caribbean and caused catastrophic damage to the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and, especially, Grenada. In addition to killing dozens of people and damaging 90 percent of Grenadan homes, the hurricane also wreaked havoc underwater on the island’s coral reefs. Taylor saw a unique opportunity for reconstruction and embarked on creating the world’s first underwater sculpture gallery to restore those damaged reefs. Some images from that first installation off the coast of Grenada are below.
This could be set aside as merely a fun environmental art project, if the sculptures themselves were not so moving. Taylor often casts his models performing mundane activities – sitting at a typewriter, riding a bike, or holding hands with a friend – and when submerged underwater the effect can be eerie. Taylor says that part of the goal of his work is to try to address the rapid technological and cultural change that our society has undergone in the last 20 years, causing moments of disorientation to be a part of daily life: “I feel this has left us with an underlying sense of loss. My work tries to record some of those moments.”
The seemingly petrified bodies give the park a Pompeii-esque quality. You get the sense that the sculptures are an unintentional record of our civilization – people frozen, unsuspecting, in an ordinary moment. I love the idea that Earth’s future inhabitants might find these, perhaps long after humans are extinct, and wonder what we were doing with typewriters under the sea.
All images © Jason deCaires Taylor.