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Submerged art: the “Silent evolution”

Anyone who dove in tropical waters is familiar with the wonders of coral reefs: a rainbow of colors, schools of fish cruising around, myriads of small creatures finding shelter in the caves and crevices that only a reef structure can provide. Unfortunately, you can’t find these natural “constructions” everywhere, so here the (good) man tries to intervene in a positive way.

You’ve heard maybe of “Rigs-to-Reefs” (RTR) programs; if you haven’t, then it means you maybe live in an area blessed from nature with a rich and unspoiled marine environment. The “Rigs-to Reefs” is just an example of how you can create an artificial environment underwater (besides the most common way through sunken ships, boats, airplanes, etc.), by transforming outdated, nonproductive offshore oil and gas structures into designated artificial reefs.

The first conversion took place in 1979 and relocated a structure to a chosen offshore site in Franklin County, Florida. More followed and in 1984 a law was signed, with the creation of a National Artificial Reef Plan in 1985. By 1998 the program was functioning and already 128 platforms were donated for the RTR programs. It seems there’s a recognized link between fish, fishing, and oil and gas structures in the marine environment, so after identifying areas and sites at sea suitable for artificial reef developments, the structures are placed on site to stimulate growth, attracting interest from coastal communities, divers, as well as fishermen. There are more than one ways of relocating these structures, the main focus being in keeping alive the already formed “communities” of fish and corals created on the base of the rigs. 

 

A series of entities have become specialized in this kind of operations and, from big oil and gas corporations to environmental groups or NGOs, all are aware of the continuing degradation the coral reefs are subjected to.

Taking a step further the attempt to create suitable and inspirational man-made hard substrates for coral growth, artist Jason deCaires Taylor is involved in a series of art projects that place different sculpture compositions on the bottom of the ocean. Born in a multicultural family and spending most of his life in different countries, Taylor’s experiences, from graffiti artist to stone carving in the Canterbury Cathedral, from scuba diving instructor to set design and concert installations, seem to have led him like an invisible red thread to his present work in Mexico.

As one of the founders, in 2009, of the MUSA (The Underwater Art Museum – Museo Subacuático de Arte) in The National Marine Park of Cancun, Mexico, Jason Taylor is the Artistic Director of the underwater museum, which will officially be inaugurated in December 2010. Comprising four installations to date – “La Jardinera de la Esperanza” or “The Gardener of Hope”, “El Coleccionista de los Sueños Perdidos” or “The Archive of Lost Dreams”, “Hombre en Llamas” or “Man on Fire” set up in November 2009 and “The Silent Evolution” or “La Evolución Silenciosa” just completed this month [November 2010] – the project is made of more than 400 full-scale concrete sculptures representing locals in different arrangements, different instants of their life. As the artist explains “over the last 20 years our generation has encountered rapid change both technologically, culturally and geographically. I feel this has left us with an underlying sense of loss. My work tries to record some of those moments”. And he records it in a truly astonishing way: the statues seem real, frozen in a moment, as if the eyes of Medusa were passing over them and transforming in an instant each and everyone into stones.

Having the aim of attracting away scuba divers from the other natural reefs in the area, this unique endeavor is made-up as a solution in trying to reduce the pressure and exploitation of the natural environment, giving it a chance to recover from the damages suffered from humans, as well as from hurricanes and waves. As Taylor points out “scientists are predicting that at current rates of destruction we will loose 80% of our natural coral reefs by 2050, I hope my work goes some way to highlight this truly frightening hypothesis”.

The artificial reef will provide a “fertile soil” for future coral growth, being attentively chosen after research was made in collaboration with marine biologists, as the composition needs to have a specific pH to attract corals or to sustain the “cuttings” “planted” on the sculptures (see “Man on Fire”).

The final stage of the project – “The Silent Evolution” installation just completed, comprises 400 full-size sculptures carved out of a special blend of cement, sand and micro-silica – a mixture that seems to please the underwater creatures, being a suitable support for coral growth. Located in the Cancun area, in the marine park which receives annually about 750,000 visitors, the work is impressive in size: 420 square meters of sea bottom and 180 tones of weight. The inspiration was mainly Mexican locals of all ages and from all layers of society. Situated in a quite shallow place, both scuba divers and snorkelers can benefit from this impressive “gathering of people”, while glass-bottom boats will serve visitors that don’t want to get their feet wet.

 

Different from the usual art installations placed in a sterile environment in a museum, Taylor’s projects are immerged in a new medium – water, are alive, in continuous change. “All my work is about change and forming objects that mirror the transient nature of our lives“, says the artist. Water acts differently from air and presents additional means of exploring an installation: you can become part of it, interact with it, not to mention the fact that being submerged yourself creates a special state of being, a contemplative journey into a different world. Taylor takes this journey one step further, to an alien world, a world that is a reflection of our own, but gives us the distance to be able to ponder and process what it means. Changes in light, different points of view, perpetual transformation, life – this is everything that the artist invites us to. And he does it in such a magnificent way!

Is this the future of diving?!

My sculptures aren’t memorials. They’re about the here and now. There’s no ownership or possession.” (Jason deCaires Taylor)

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