Attractions

Sea view

A love of art and the environment led to the creation of two underwater museums, which provide homes for coral and sea life. Eco sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor tells Kathleen Whyman what inspires him


What was your inspiration?
I’m a sculptor and was mainly working on land and with the landscape. I was creating objects that had no functional purpose other than their artistic value – the world’s cluttered enough, we need more of a reason to make things.

I had the idea that if I worked underwater, these objects would not only discuss the boundaries of art, they’d create habitat space for sea life and be beneficial to the environment. That was the main driving force.

How did you get started?
The first museum was in Grenada in 2006. I grew up in Spain, Portugal, Malaysia and the UK and happened to be living and teaching scuba diving in Grenada at the time.

I’d had the idea for the underwater sculptures for a while, so looked into how feasible it was and presented the concept to the local government. They were sceptical, but interested, so I started small with a couple of pieces and added to them. It kept growing and more people started to help and support the project. Over the course of two years I built the first underwater sculpture park, which contains 65 individual works and is called Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park.

The government of Mexico, after seeing this project, invited me to address some of the problems they have with high levels of tourism in Cancun. MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) opened in 2009 and has 510 permanent sculptural works.

How do the museums benefit the environment?
Prior to the museum, there was only one good snorkelling area in Grenada. All the boats would congregate in that area and there was damage to the reef from people jumping off boats and kicking corals and it was slowly deteriorating. I created another snorkelling site nearby to relieve some of that pressure – coral grows on the sculptures and fish live around them.

It was a similar objective in Cancun. The area has more than 750,000 visitors each year, so the objective was to try and manage those people and minimise the impact to the reef. The government wanted to start closing sections of the reef down to allow them to rejuvenate and thrive, but the business community threatened to sue the government for closing down their economy and insisted on an alternative offer. It was at that point that they contacted me.

How has the local community benefited?
The statistics are amazing. In Cancun, the diving has increased by 30 per cent in a few years and now gets over 80,000 visitors annually. In Grenada, the area never used to have visitors, but now gets 20,000 people a year. Seventy per cent of divers go to the museum site rather than the original reef. It’s in the top three TripAdvisor ratings and got voted by National Geographic as one of the Wonders of the World.

What are the sculptures?
Predominantly I use figurative forms, with concepts of humans working in harmony with nature. I strive to bring in themes of the threat to the reef and how we’re oblivious to what happens under water. I’ve sculpted a guy on a sofa watching TV, showing the irony of the way we live and how we’re so focused on our little worlds that we forget the bigger picture.

There are hundreds of sculptures ranging from The Silent Evolution – a crowd of 450 people which informs visitors on the various stages of reef evolution; a series of suburban dwellings designed to house individual marine species; The Listener – a lone figure assembled entirely from casts of human ears and a recording device to monitor the reef; and Reclamation, an angelic female form with wings that are propagated with living coral.

One of the large installations – The Silent Evolution – took me two years and an amazing amount of hard work and I was really pleased with it. Then I did a piece called Banker, which is a guy with his head in the sand, and that got just as much response and it only took a month to make and was really easy. I’ve learnt that you can have very potent images that can say just as much as the big, arduous projects.

What’s your message?
I hope people have more of an understanding of, and more respect for, all the amazing things that are happening underneath our oceans and have that in the forefront of their minds. Some of our coral reefs could be the first eco systems we lose if we continue with the problems associated with global warming.

What are the costs?
The construction isn’t expensive because the materials aren’t dear, but the installations are costly. We want the sculptures to weigh as much as possible so that they stay in place on the seabed and are very resilient – they’re planned to last for hundreds of years, so need to be very well constructed – but the heavier they are, the more expensive the logistics become. It’s a balance between working the two out so it becomes possible.

How are the sculptures secured?
They’re drilled into the ocean floor, but we rely on the weight to help. We have to keep the centre of gravity very low. It’s a new environment to work in and is subject to different forces.

There have been some terrible artificial reef projects where people haven’t fixed things well enough. One project around the coast of Carolina, US used old car tyres. The first storm that came along ripped them out, rolled them over the reef and destroyed all the coral, so it’s really important to ensure they’re fixed.

What are they made from?
They’re made out of specialised marine cement that’s 20 times more durable than normal construction cement and impervious to the salt water.

I can’t use metal as it would corrode and break down. Ninety per cent of public sculpture has some kind of metal in the armature or construction, so the challenge is to design objects differently. I use armatures made out of inert fibreglass and geo-textiles.

How do you ensure the sculptures are protected?
Mainly through education. We ask the guides to explain that these are artificial reefs and have signs underwater asking people not to touch the sculptures. But nowadays, everything’s a photo opportunity – people stand next to the sculptures and put their arms around them for a photo and then we get a breakage.

What are the challenges?
Firstly, it's getting permission. Before starting, I have to do a very strict environmental impact assessment for the government. That’s quite a difficult part of the process, depending upon the location – it’s very difficult to get permits in America, for example.

Navigating the weather and scheduling deployment is always difficult. If a dense wind falls it makes it far harder to work. Another challenge is the unpredictable nature of the sea. It can work in my favour – I might find some beautiful pink sponges and amazing coral growing, which is fantastic.

But there can be undesirable effects. We had an issue where we went along one day and all the sculptures were covered in thick algae. We couldn’t see anything at all, which was worrying. We cleaned it off half of them and three months later, the ones we’d cleaned had grown back worse, whereas the algae had started to disappear on the ones we hadn’t touched. That was quite a lesson in not messing with things too much. A year later the algae had gone completely from all of them.

What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished working at MUSA and have relocated to Europe. I’m in talks with people in Florida, Malaysia, and the Maldives. It’s fascinating because each place has very different conditions and the works would evolve very differently according to the location.

One of my aims is to advance the technology and research that allows more marine life to colonise the sculptures and create works that are more interactive for visitors. I’m currently devising some installations that start on land and then go into the sea. I’m also doing some pieces that rise out of the water so people can dive off them and others with lights so people can scuba dive at night.

I have plenty of ideas, which I can't reveal yet, but at this moment in time I’ve just begun an exciting project off the coast of Lanzarote. The crystal blue Atlantic waters surrounding the island are home to a completely different marine ecosystem and the project will discuss the topic of climate change and migration. It is supported by the Achenbach Art Foundation and the regional government.

This feature first appeared in Attractions Management Issue 1 2014

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
company profile
Company profile: DJW
DJW offer a way to interpret your story through the use of technology. We can provide Audio Visual consultancy to assist in the planning stage, follow up with AV system design, supply and installation, and provide a bespoke control system to suit your operational needs.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
Houston’s Memorial Park is being restored following hurricane damage
Thomas Woltz
"I am very proud of stewarding the largest public space to be built in Manhattan in a century"

The Wall Street Journal’s Design Innovator of the Year on designing the gardens at Hudson Yards and looking to the Native Americans for ideas on how to create a resilient future

Local, natural materials have been used to create an organic, calming feel. Views of the surroundings take centre stage
"Wellness embraces the entire holiday experience"

The design of the newly-opened Lefay Resort and Spa Dolomitti in Italy aims to celebrate and protect its spectacular surroundings

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
Marianne Shillingford
"The technology involved in paint is extraordinary"

Used cleverly, colour has the power to influence how people use the spaces they inhabit, says the creative director of Dulux

SHL managing director Sanne Wall-Gremstrup (right) and Perkins+Will CEO Phil Harrison
"Most clients are very focused on how buildings are used and experienced as the primary design driver"

The MD of Schmidt Hammer Lassen and the CEO of PerkinsWill tell us why their merger will help create smarter buildings driven by human behaviour

Manuelle Gautrand
"The cities where you have good cultural buildings and facilities – it’s a way for people to mix, to share the city in a much deeper way"

The French architect and winner of the 2017 European Prize for Architecture tells us why she is determined to surprise

cladkit product news
Metalline transforms London hotel with bespoke aluminium fins
The aluminium fins will form the façade of the upcoming Minories Hotel in Aldgate, London
Lauren Heath-Jones
Metalline, an architectural metalwork specialist based in the UK, has created a range of bespoke 3D twisted metal fins for ...
BIG partners with Louis Poulsen for new lighting collection
The Keglen collection is made up of four different pendants
Lauren Heath-Jones
BIG Ideas, the technology arm of renowned architecture firm Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG), has partnered with Danish lighting manufacturer Louis ...
Daniel Svahn creates furniture collection using repurposed table tops
The Goodies But Oldies collection features three pieces made from repurposed MDF table tops
Lauren Heath-Jones
Daniel Svahn, a Stockholm-based furniture designer, has created a new range of sustainable furnishings, made from recycled MDF tabletops. Svahn, ...
cladkit product news
XTU concept imagines life in the clouds
XTU's X Cloud concept is part of the Future and the Arts: AI, Robotic, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo
Lauren Heath-Jones
XTU Architects, a Paris-based architecture firm, has released images and renderings of X Cloud, a new concept that showcase a ...
Tom Dixon collaborates with Prolicht to launch CODE lighting range
The product has three LED light sources: Dot, Dash and Grid
Megan Whitby
British designer, Tom Dixon, and Austrian architectural lighting specialists, Prolicht, have collaborated to unveil a new lighting range. Called CODE, ...
Barr + Wray to launch space saving hammam concept
Light shines through a striking central chandelier to create a feeling of movement
Katie Barnes
Smaller footprint. Maximum theatre. Those are the two main features of a new hammam concept being developed by wet spa ...
cladkit product news
Painting with Light pushes boundaries to create unforgettable visual concepts
The team combines lighting, video, sound and special effects, with scenic and architectural elements, to create unforgettable visual experiences
Megan Whitby
Belgium-based light and video design studio, Painting with Light, will translate the story of your location into a visual experience, ...
Matteo Thun grows Allaperto collection with new suspended outdoor armchair
Megan Whitby
Allaperto, the lounge collection spawned by the partnership between design studios, Matteo Thun, Ethimo and Antonio Rodriguez, has been expanded ...
1885 Lounge at St Mary's Stadium celebrates Southampton FC's history
Rainbow Design worked closely with KSS Architects to ensure the furniture matched the design vision
Lauren Heath-Jones
KSS Architects has partnered with Rainbow Design, a London-based furniture supplier, to create the 1885 Lounge at St Mary's Stadium, ...
x
Email this to a friend or colleague
I am happy for Leisure Media to contact me occasionally by email and understand that I can opt out at any time.
Attractions: Sea view
Jason deCaires Taylor has combined his love of art and ecology to create two amazing underwater museums