Call them works in progress. Artist Jason deCaires Taylor has toiled for the past eight years to craft sculptures that he hopes will become part of the larger world— underwater.
The undersea artist last week signed the papers for a major installation in the waters off the island of Lanzarote, which is an autonomous region of Spain. The exhibition will include 10 installations comprising more than 300 small sculptures. The artwork will be made of a rough-textured marine-grade cement so microorganisms can start to grow on them. The sculptures gradually will be transformed into artificial coral reefs that provide habitat for fish and other marine life at a time when ocean acidification from climate change is destroying natural reefs worldwide.
The statues are created on land and then carefully sunk; sometimes giant cranes and air bags are used to position the pieces as they descend.
The new work—his first in the Atlantic Ocean—is designed to become one with the ocean. “Part of the new project is about creating a large fish sanctuary to aggregate fish,” said deCaires Taylor.
The British artist only uses ocean-safe materials and designs the works so they can be experienced by people as well as fish. Visitors to the underwater museum will have to dive or snorkel to see the art. DeCaires Taylor said that he is also exploring ways to use submarines as viewing vehicles.
The underwater museum is set to open in 2016. For the first time, the artist is taking applications for people who want their faces to be immortalized in the sea. For $780 and a few hours of time, deCaires Taylor will create a cast of a person’s face and include it in the work.
His previous installations have been in the Caribbean, where he said the warm water and fast growth of plants led the sculptures to take on a life of their own.
Only about 10 percent to 15 percent of the seafloor is suitable for the growth of natural reefs, deCaires Taylor pointed out, and artificial reefs give more space for marine life to flourish. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a quarter of all marine life relies on coral reefs to survive.
Luring visitors to see the marine life at artificial reefs also takes pressure off natural reefs, allowing them to rebound.
The artist would like to work in the Arctic or the Antarctic, using icebergs as a backdrop for his sculpted works. Working in the water, he’s experienced firsthand how the oceans are changing. “I’ve seen dramatic effects from polluted water,” said deCaires Taylor.
“I’ve watched algae blooms on the sculptures and sewage going into the sea,” he said. “I hope people start to realize what an incredible habitat space this is and that we need to pull out all our resources to save it.”