“Full fathom five thy father lies”

Off the coast of Mexico, 27 feet beneath the surface of the sea, life-size statues stand like watery apparitions. They form part of an installation called “The Silent Evolution” in a strange museum in the National Marine Park of Cancún.

Behind the concept is British sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor. After creating a similar underwater museum/artificial reef off Grenada in 2006, officials from Cancun’s marine park contacted him about doing a project for them. The sculptures are made with carefully researched environmentally friendly materials which actively promote coral growth, with inert Ph neutral properties designed to last hundreds of years. Working with marine biologists, he employs the latest research in creating habitat spaces designed to encourage specific forms of marine life.

Marine biologists are not the only ones. In an interview with USA Today he said, “I have a whole team of underwater helpers that come along and do all the finishing for me. 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, but this is just the beginning!”

Taylor is an internationally acclaimed eco-sculptor who provides ephemeral encounters and fleeting glimpses of another world where art develops from the effects of nature on the efforts of humans. His permanent installations are designed to act as artificial reefs, attracting corals, increasing marine biomass and aggregating fish species, while crucially diverting tourists away from fragile natural reefs and thus providing space for natural rejuvenation.

Loss and fragility are an inherent theme of Taylor’s work. He explains, “Over the last 20 years, our generation has encountered rapid change; 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.” The Lost Correspondent (2006) echoes these sentiments. Immersed at a depth of eight meters off Grenada, a man sits at his desk, his hands hovering over a typewriter, poised in eternal deliberation. He is a forgotten relic, like his typewriter, which has been superseded by modern technology.

The majority of Taylor’s work takes the form of human figures housed beneath the ocean. Since 2006 his work has featured in numerous art and environmental publications and in 2008 he was awarded membership of Art & Science Collaborations Inc., whose purpose is “nurturing the intersection of art, science, technology and the humanities.” In an article in Environmental Graffiti (August 2010), asked why he uses human figures for his artificial reefs, he said, “I am trying to portray how human intervention or interaction with nature can be positive and sustainable, an icon of how we can live in a symbiotic relationship with nature. Finally, I believe we have to address some of the crucial problems occurring in our oceans at this moment in time and by using human forms I can connect with a wider audience.”

“Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.”

Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act I, sc.ii

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