Artist Jason deCaires Taylor (Rolling in the Deep)
In most land-based art galleries, you would politely step around anybody obscuring your view of an exhibit, but in Jason deCaires TaylorÃ�ï¿½Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã�ï¿½Ã�Â¢Ã�ï¿½Ã�Â¯Ã�ï¿½Ã�Â¿Ã�ï¿½Ã�Â½Ã�ï¿½Ã�Â¯Ã�ï¿½Ã�Â¿Ã�ï¿½Ã�Â½s extraordinary underwater museums, the terms of engagement are oceans away from normal.
Words by Lucy Ranyell.
Submerged beneath the tranquil surface of the Caribbean Sea, the internationally-acclaimed eco-sculptor’s fantastical marine installations inveigle viewers in the artistic encounter, immersing them in his vision so that their gaze, perspective and physical presence become part of the deep impact of his works. Intent on highlighting the desperate plight of the world’s marine environment, where 40 percent of coral reefs have already been lost, Taylor actively seeks, “to promote the regeneration of marine life and to use sculpture as a means of conveying hope and awareness of the plight of the oceans.”
Born to an English father and Guyanese mother, Taylor’s passion for the underwater realm developed alongside a childhood spent exploring the coral reefs of Malaysia. Having graduated from Camberwell College of the Arts, London, with a BA Honours degree in Sculpture, he once again headed ‘down under,’ witnessing with his adult eyes the degradation of tropical reef ecosystems – a theme that would later inspire artistic works of powerful environmental activism.
Using wire, pH neutral marine cement and galvanised steel, Taylor presents the beautiful aquamarine of the Caribbean Sea as an unlikely complement to his sculptures. Stationary yet ever in transition, his gardens of living art rise from the seabeds of Grenada’s Molinere Bay and out of the shallows of Cancun and Isla Mujeres, Mexico, like relics from an ancient civilisation. Subject to the vagaries of nature, Taylor harnesses the magnifying and unpredictable optical effects of water, freeing his work from the white walls and controlled lighting of a gallery, and using fluctuations in colour and light and changes in current and turbulence as an ingenious alternative medium. With meticulous attention to detail and carefully planned materials, sculptures slowly transform from rock to living artificial reefs, losing their human form over time to become evocative visual seascapes that actively promote the colonisation of coral and attract, feed, sustain and encourage sea life, supporting its longevity by providing an enticing home.
Like the boundless ocean, the artist’s vision is unrestrained. Silent Evolution dramatically echoes China’s Terracotta Warriors, an army of eight-thousand figurines intended to guard the tomb of the first Emperor of China. The motionless figures are witness to decay and guardians of the sea floor. Although silent, their collective presence speaks with volume and power, suggesting that when we work together, we can make a difference. The Archive of Lost Dreams depicts a registrar overseeing a collection of hundreds of messages in bottles. Submitted by people from a range of social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, Taylor categorises them according to the nature of their message – hope, fear, loss or belonging – delivering a haunting and profound marine time capsule.
Whilst his art is serious, like Man on Fire – the lone figure standing defiant; unaware of the environmental situation surrounding him – it also engages and educates in innovative and playful ways. At first glimpse, Anthropocene presents a discarded car, an iconic VW Beetle – one of the most enduring and popular vehicles ever produced. A small, human figure in a foetal position huddles on the windscreen, looking as if unsuccessfully seeking comfort from this manmade, mass-produced symbol. Similarly, in Inertia, a man with a soft belly relaxes in an armchair in front of a television with a half-eaten burger and chips on his knee. He is frozen on the sea floor, forever in stasis, perhaps wanting to do something but paralysed and procrastinating. Through his imaginative artwork, the artist is inviting us to get out of our armchairs and do something positive for the environment.
Captivating, mesmerising, Taylor draws us down deep into the beauty he seeks to protect, hoping to stem the tide of environmental destruction and bring to the surface a seachange in attitudes.
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