Europe’s first underwater museum might just help save the coral reefs

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The Museo Atlántico by British-Guyanese sculptor and environmentalist Jason DeCaires Taylor, is reviewed here by Avantika Shankar for Architectural Digest (India).

While most museums take great pains to preserve their works of art, there are some artists who create art specifically so that it may be irreparably altered by its environment. Underwater museums, for example, comprise of sculptures that over time are entirely taken over by the aquatic ecosystem. And that’s entirely the point.

Europe’s first underwater museum, the Museo Atlántico, opened in the waters off the Spanish island of Lanzarote last month. It features sculptures by Jason deCaires Taylor, whose works have been known to fill other underwater museums around the world—Cancun, the Bahamas and Antilles. His sculptures are usually of human figures, at times engaged in seemingly mundane activities like taking a selfie or riding a see-saw. Other sculptures are darker—figures in dramatic poses, their emotions simultaneously less apparent and therefore more evocative as they get overridden by sea life.

One of the largest sculptures, called “The Rubicon”, is an installation of thirty-five figures walking towards a gateway. Not all are looking where they’re going—some are taking selfies, others have their eyes closed. A comment, it would seem, on how mankind is heading blindly to a point of no return.

What is worth noting about these sculptures is that they aren’t simply art in the traditional sense. They serve a greater purpose. They are, in fact, artificial reefs, created using non-toxic, pH neutral marine-grade cement and are meant to become a part of the local ecosystem. The texture encourages the growth of microbial aquatic life, and the bigger nooks provide homes for small fish. Taylor is also careful with his placement of the sculptures. He ensures that they are far away from existing reefs, so as not to cause any damage and also to draw tourists away from them; often divers tend to cause more inadvertent harm to reef life than they realise.

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Over time, the sculptures themselves will become overwhelmed with marine life, after which their original form may not be distinguishable; this is a part of Taylor’s art, a manner in which the artist has ensured his work will always be brimming with life.

Jason deCaires Taylor’s artwork is part of a growing artistic movement that has environmentalism at its forefront. His work doesn’t simply address the issue—it brings his audience to the very (pardon the pun) depths of them. As he says in a TED Talk, “We call it a museum for a very specific reason. Museums are places of preservation, conservation and education.” Referring to his installation of sculptures as a museum in their own right is a way to encourage audiences to build the same level of cultural awareness, do the same amount of research as they would if they were visiting any other museum in a foreign country. Bringing people into the ocean and allowing them to see it function as a living ecosystem for themselves is imperative to gaining their interest in fighting for its preservation.

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