Underwater Wonderland: Experience the Deep Sea Art

Artist Jason de Caires Taylor decorates the bottom of the ocean floor with a series of sculptures, creating the world's first 'underwater museum'.

November 12, 2010 10:56
underwater art

underwater art 311. (photo credit: mutualart.com)

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This series of sculptures comprise the world’s first ‘Underwater Museum,’ and have certainly made a splash: since the first pieces were installed nearly six weeks ago, scuba divers, snorkelers, and tour groups in glass-bottom boats have been riveted by De Caires Taylor’s reefs. Even more importantly, the fish seem to like them, too.

According to Taylor, the National Marine Park in Cancun welcomes approximately 750,000 people a year, which in turn puts a lot of stress on the natural reefs. By creating an artificial reef, the artist sought to draw people to a more barren area in order to protect the natural corals. “For me the environmental goal is the number one aim,” the artist maintains. “We’re losing vast areas of our natural reefs in a short space of time. Unless we all take drastic actions in another 50 years time we could be left with very little.”

In order to create his latest marine wonderland, the artist spent two years researching and planning the installation, and construction began around 14 months ago.He had special casting materials imported to Mexico, and collaborated with both an artificial reef company and a marine engineering firm in order to realize the reef.

Yet even for Taylor, a former scuba instructor who grew up in and around the ocean, his latest creation proved to be a challenge. “I specialize in working underwater, but this particular project has obviously been my most ambitious to date,” he says with a laugh. “Logistically it has been very challenging. The whole installation weighs over 140 tons. We had to mix hundreds of cubic tons of cement...about 420 sq. meters on the ocean bed.” The cement medium was a special “inert” material suitable for use underwater.

There were other hurdles in the process - namely, that the art has to be able to withstand the ever-changing seas. “You’re sort of working against everything because you have to make the filters as heavy as possible to withstand the currents, and possible hurricanes,” Taylor says. “So that’s quite a challenge.” “Plus,” he adds,“[the sculptures] have to be heavy enough so they stay fixed to the bottom but not so heavy that you can’t lift them.” But the final result is certainly stunning, rewarding to both the human spectator and the marine life which now reside there. Doubling as an artificial reef, it’s an installation that -- like the evolution of a culture -- will continually transform over time.

Taylor is a fan of other artists who are making purposeful, environmentally conscious art, such as the innovative “temporary land artist” Jim Denevan (Read our interview with the artist here). “I love the idea that its art for a temporary moment...you’re not cluttering up the planet, and that’s more related to our own lives-- we’re only here for a short period of time, and we’re all part of that process.” The artist will continue to make waves in the marine world with future projects, including plans for an installation piece in an underwater cave, and a series of soluble sculptures, which will illustrate ocean acidification.

To his credit, Taylor pays tribute to his marine-life muses, whom he says assist him in all his aquatic endeavors."I have a whole team of underwater helpers that come along and do all the finishing for me," he said in an interview with USA Today last month. "The coral applies the paint. The fish supply the atmosphere. The water provides the mood. People ask me when it's going to be finished. This is just the beginning."

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