Using the ocean as an exhibition space, British artist Jason deCaires Taylor has created an underwater museum off the coast of Lanzarote, comprising life-size concrete figures depicting the horrors of the refugee crisis to selfie-taking tourists, sculpture that will transform over time into a thriving marine ecosystem.
Cat was invited to document the submerging of the Museo Atlantico sculptures and visited the Museo Subacuático de Arte in Cancun to capture how the sculptures evolve once underwater. Maria provided a narrative for the pre-launch press distribution of Cat’s images.
The Raft of Lampedusa depicts 13 refugees on a raft, drifting towards an uncertain future. It draws its inspiration from Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa which represent the vain hope of shipwrecked sailors. Despite being able to see the rescue vessel on the horizon, they are abandoned to their fate – much as refugees are today.
Life-sized casts are situated 14m below the surface of the water. This is a permanent installation, accessible to divers and snorkelers and tourists in glass-bottomed boats.
Taylor cast refugee Abdel Kader as the figurehead of The Raft of Lampedusa. Kader comes from Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara, and made his own perilous journey by boat to Lanzarote 16 years ago.
The Rubicon features 35 people walking towards a gate, unaware that they are heading to a point of no return. They look down or look at their phones, in an almost dreamlike state. This is a recurrent theme in Taylor’s work – that we are sleepwalking towards catastrophe, unable to take stock of our own impact on the natural world and therefore our own survival.
Installing the sculptures is a feat of engineering. The life-size casts are lowered by cranes into the sea. Divers guide the sculptures to the ocean bed while Taylor directs from below to guide them precisely to their landing point. The sculptures will be accessible by divers and snorkelers and can be viewed from glass-bottomed boats.
Over time, these ph-neutral concrete structures become living sculptures, creating a botanical garden. The formations are all configured so that they aggregate fish on a really large scale and the casts become anchors for new coral growth, attracting local fish species and creating new eco-systems.
In 2009, Jason deCaires Taylor created MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) in Cancun Marine Park, consisting of 500 permanent life-size sculptures. Here Taylor inspects his sculpture The Gardener and cleans it of green algae.
Cancun has famously developed at a pace that places huge pressure on its natural resources. The marine park attracts 750,000 visitors a year alone – but the arrival of MUSA diverts attention to the artificial reef, giving the natural reefs a chance to repair and regenerate.
The casts are placed down stream from healthy reefs, breathing life into previously barren seascapes. Where possible, Taylor times his installations to coincide with mass spawning so the coral lavae has a chance to take hold. His designs are textured to encourage coral growth.
“As soon as we sink them, they belong to the sea.”
Inertia depicts a man on a couch watching television. While he may be ignorant of our environmental crisis, his television provides a habitat space for juvenile fish and an anchor for the coral.
Cat’s images of Museo Atlantico and MUSA were featured in pre-opening press coverage.
- The Guardian – Image gallery.