Mexico’s Haunting Underwater Sculptures: Art With A Purpose

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31st Oct, 2010

If this doesn’t give a much-needed boost to tourism in Mexico, I don’t know what will. I’ve come across an artist called Jason DeCaires Taylor, whose work has pretty much blown out of the water (pun intended) anything that I saw exhibiting at the Paris FIAC Art Fair last week. The sculpter and scuba diver who grew up in Europe and Asia to an English father and a Guyanese mother, has been causing quite a stir in the media with his newest, largest and most chilling installation yet; 403 life-size human sculptures, spanning 420 square meters of barren sea bed.

“The Silent Evolution”

The location is Cancun Mexico in the national marine park where coral reefs are suffering from being over-fished and over-visited. DeCaire’s haunting but hypnotizing underwater art will not only serve as a visual treat for divers but more importantly and beneficially as a diversion from the natural reefs in the park which need a chance to recover and rejuvinate. “The Silent Evolution” will effectively double as an artificial reef, attracting fish and marine life to colonize the sculptures.

“It’s incredibly interesting working underwater,” says DeCaires, “The colors are different, the light patterns are very different, the atmosphere and mood is otherworldly. The piece takes on a very different tone underwater — it has a lost feel to it and brings up all these questions that you wouldn’t have on land.”

Only about 10 – 15% of the world’s sea bed has a solid enough substratum to allow reefs to form naturally. DeCaires is not the first marine enthusiast to build an artificial reef, but he is certainly the first to incorporate the idea into an artistic expression. Using a special cement mix to encourage and attract coral growth, his various projects around the world are contributing to a progression which other artificial reefs have proven can successfully support entire marine ecosystems.

“There are physical and optical considerations that must be taken into account. Objects appear twenty five percent larger underwater, and as a consequence they also appear closer.”

Now you’ve seen deCaire’s latest installation, take a look at some of his older projects and how nature has made its own contribution to his sculptures over time…

“Vicissitudes”

26 Life size figures, 5m deep, Granada, West Indies

“The large number of angles and perspectives from which the sculptures can be viewed increase dramatically the unique experience of encountering the works,” DeCaires.

These are life-size casts taken from a group of children of diverse backgrounds.

“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.”

You can see how drastically the sculptures evolve from unique art designs to functioning and well-adapted members of a marine society, from clearly defined and sculpted faces to almost unrecognizable figures engulfed by the swallowing reef.

“Hombre en Llamas” (Man on Fire)

Depth 9m, Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

This statue, which weighs over 1 ton, is cast from a local Mexican fisherman called Joachim.

The cement statue has 75 holes drilled and has been filled with real cuttings of fire coral. Known to the scientific world as millepora alcicorni, this particular coral is a very fast growing marine organism. DeCaires has named this sculpture ‘Man on Fire’ because of the yellow, amber and brown colours of the coral which when touched, leaves the curious with a painful stinging sensation. The artist anticipates that with time, his ‘man on fire’ will indeed appear to be on fire underwater.

Ever the environmentalist, DeCaires sourced the Millepora alcicorni ‘fire coral’ from fragments damaged by human intervention or by violent storms. DeCaires has also artificially grown some of the coral.

“El Coleccionista de Sueños” (The Archive of Lost Dreams)

Depth, 9m, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

DeCaires placed ‘The Archive of Lost Dreams’ in an area of the Mexican national marine park, specifically where marine life has been damaged by passing hurricanes and tropical storms. The sculpture is intended to lure away the park’s 750,00o yearly visitors from other sections of the surrounding pristine reef allowing space to recover and develop naturally.

The underwater scene depicts a man and his dog who guard a collection of messages in bottles. The hundreds of messages being preserved in bottles are in fact real messages from various communities of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. DeCaires invited these communities to provide the messages, which he hopes will chronicle present day principles, beliefs and aspirations for future generations to discover.

I couldn’t think of a better use for art.

“The Lost Correspindent”

Depth 8m, Granada, West Indies

DeCaires’ works have an incredibly ghostly feel to them, reminding me of remains from sunken ships or the ash covered bodies from the Roman city of Pompeii following the catastrophic volcanic eruption.

The desk is covered with a collection of newspaper cuttings that date back to the 1970s, detailing Grenada’s alignment with Cuba in the period immediately prior to the revolution.

“The Fall from Grace”

Depth 6m, Granada, West Indies

“TamCC Project”

Depth 2m, Granada, West Indies

Short film on “The Silent Evolution”

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