Jason deCaires Taylor: “Trying to Protect a Reef with an Otherworldly Diversion”

As our readers have probably noticed, we are admirers of Jason deCaires Taylor’s work. Here is another review of his work by Rodrigo Cruz for The New York Times. He writes about the Museo Subacuático de Arte in Cancún, Mexico, and perception by various scientists as to whether the sculptor’s work really constitutes a conservation project:

Most people head off to an art exhibit with comfortable shoes and a deep appreciation for creativity. Jason deCaires Taylor’s work requires flippers and, to really appreciate it, a depth of at least 12 feet. Mr. Taylor labors over his sculptures for weeks, five-ton concrete figures of men, women and children, many of them modeled after people in the fishing village near here where he lives and works. [. . .] There, they rest in ghostly repose in the Museo Subacuático de Arte here, serving at once as a tourist attraction and as a conservation effort by drawing divers and snorkelers away from the Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest barrier reef system in the world, and toward this somewhat macabre, artificial one.

The nearly 500 statues, the first ones placed in 2009 and 60 added this year, have acquired enough coral, seaweed and algae to give them the look of zombies with a particularly nightmarish skin condition. Eventually, in six years or so, the coral will completely overtake them, leaving only suggestive shapes. [. . .] Purists may shudder at the idea of altering the sea in any way. But Mr. Taylor, who uses marine-grade concrete specially prepared to entice coral and be close to neutral pH, notes that the exhibit inhabits but a fraction of the sea.

[. . .] Some scientists agree, as long as the artificial reefs are placed in a way that is minimally disruptive to the sea floor and to natural reefs.  “I have seen the pictures, and it looks intriguing,” Richard E. Dodge, executive director of the National Coral Reef Institute in Florida, said of the museum. “If it is not so extensive that it impinges hugely on the natural reef, it does help by providing an alternative dive site.” Others are more skeptical, saying that the museum serves more as a tourist attraction and that the reef is harmed more by pollution from the resorts and by climate change than by visitors to it.  “It is neither a benefit nor a harm to the reef, but I do not see it as a conservation project,” said Roberto Iglesias Prieto, a scientist in Cancún who studies the reef.

Mr. Taylor, a 37-year-old Briton, was drawn to Mexico after an earlier project of 65 works off the Caribbean island of Grenada got a lot of attention. He grew up in England, Spain and Malaysia, where he developed a passion for diving and coral reefs, and he was trained at the Camberwell College of Arts in London. [. . .] He has led a vagabond life — at one point, he designed theater sets in London — that by the mid-2000s took him to Grenada [. . .]. Lamenting the damage to the reefs there, he sank his savings of about $50,000 into the lightning strike of an idea for underwater works that would represent the “serious time bomb” of humans’ consequences on nature and the hope for recovery. It grew into an underwater park of 65 works, a collection that includes the oft-photographed “Lost Correspondent” — a lonely man typing at his desk in the vast blue water — and “Vicissitudes,” a ring of 28 boys and girls with African features clasping hands at the bottom of the sea. [. . .]

The notice that the Grenada works received drew the attention of officials here at the National Marine Park, an aquatic preserve off Cancún visited by about 750,000 people annually. They had started building small, ball-like artificial reefs to lure people away from the damaged natural one, and, with federal financing, they wanted Mr. Taylor to design thousands of sculptures. So far there has been money for about 500. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/world/americas/in-cancun-trying-to-protect-reef-with-underwater-statues.html?pagewanted=all

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