Beneath the Waves
By placing sculptures below the Caribbean Sea, Jason deCaires Taylor has created an otherworldly aquatic museum that is in a state of constant flux.
Words by Natasha Were. Photography by Jason de Caries
Twenty or more children stand in a perfect circle in the sand. They hold hands, facing outwards, as if in defiant unity. It’s a haunting sight, particularly with the late afternoon sun casting long shadows across the seabed.
This is Vicissitudes, one of a series of sculptures that stand amongst patches of reef at Molinere Bay, off Grenada’s west coast. Created by British sculptor and artist Jason deCaires Taylor in 2006, it is the world’s first underwater sculpture park.
Cast from local people, the sculptures are scattered across an area of around 800 square metres at depths of 10 to 30 feet. In the shallowest section a line of faces stare sightlessly out from a rock. Between two ridges of reef, The Lost Correspondent taps away at a typewriter, presumably for the rest of time, oblivious to the clouds of silver fish swirling around him.
Nearby, The Unstill Life, features the classic tableau of a vase and fruit bowl on a table, but in this watery environment, where corals and sponges will slowly but steadily colonise the composition, life is far from still.
Eeriest of all, perhaps, are the lifeless female forms that lie strewn across the ocean floor like debris. Depending on the waves and tides, shifting sands will partially or completely bury the petrified forms some days, and leave them totally exposed on others.
This one part of the genius of this aquatic gallery: its appearance changes daily, depending on the currents, weather and visibility, but it is also changing over the long term, and evolving as the ocean takes over. Taylor prefers to call it a museum, framing it as a place of education, preservation and conservation of the marine environment.
He was inspired to create the sculpture park following Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Working on the island as a dive instructor at the time, he had witnessed the storm’s damage to previously pristine reefs and subsequently observed how the few remaining healthy corals were suffering from the increased number of divers and snorkellers.
The sculptures therefore explore the relationship between art and environment, drawing attention to the threats the ocean face, but they also work to redress the balance in myriad ways.
Not only does the creation of an alternative dive site alleviate pressure on the most visited reefs, but it also creates an ideal host environment for new growth. By siting the sculptures down current from the existing reefs, newly spawned corals will naturally drift and settle on them, and the rough texture and non-toxic nature of the cement encourage the proliferation of marine life, thus creating an artificial reef.
Taylor’s hope is that by putting art in the sea, he will entice a new audience to explore the world beneath the waves and thus keep raising awareness of the fragility of the oceans. The theory has proved well founded and he has since masterminded several other underwater parks in Mexico, The Bahamas, London and the Canary Islands. At Molinere Bay, meanwhile, other artists have added new sculptures, turning this pioneering underwater installation into a uniquely collaborative piece of art as activism.
Image 1: Vicissitudes, Molinere Bay, Grenada, 2006
Image 2: The Unstill Life, Molinere Bay, Grenada, 2006
Image 3: The Silent Evolution, Cancún, Mexico, 2009
Image 4: Crossing the Rubicon, Lanzarote, Spain, 2017
Image 5: Crossing the Rubicon, Lanzarote, Spain, 2017
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