Category Archives: Installation

Jason deCaires Taylor


English sculptor: 1974-present

I’m breaking one rule in this post, which is that I’m writing about an artist I didn’t find organically. He appeared in another art blog I’ve recently begun to write for and I was curious to know more. I did some research and decided that his work deserves more than a two-paragraph blurb, so do forgive me but I think this one is worth it.

Taylor was born to an English father and Guyanese mother. His childhood was split between England and Asia, where he developed an interest exploring the reefs of Malaysia. His background includes an interesting mixture of art and underwater conservationism, leading him to unite his affinity for diving with his talents as a sculptor: an unconventional combination of interests that resulted in some breathtaking art.

Vicissitudes, Moilinere Bay Sculpture Park, Grenada 2006

Vicissitudes, Moilinere Bay Sculpture Park, Grenada 2006

The first thing that demands attention about Taylor’s figures is the detail. All of his figures are created from casts of living people, and the result is wonderful naturalism that would seem impossible were it not directly in front of us. The figures are lovely to look at, but the best aspect of this project is that they are designed to encourage the inhabitation of natural coral reef, making the installation pieces both beautiful and functional. To promote the growth of the reef, Taylor creates these figures out of a mixture of marine grade cement, sand and micro-silica to produce a pH neutral concrete which is reinforced with fibreglass rebar (according to Wikipedia).

After the attention to detail and care that it takes to make these figures, to install them at the bottom of the sea and let nature do with them what it will, that’s the extraordinary part of Taylor’s work. This is where the scientist mixes with the artist. I love that he finds beauty in the natural process of change and donates his work to nature to find use in it. This purpose is multifaceted, as creating artificial reef creates new habitats for marine life and also distracts fishermen and predators from natural coral, allowing it room and time to regenerate and prosper. Art is awesome.

Taylor’s newest project, La Evolución Silenciosa (The Silent Evolution), is particularly interesting because of its scale. The installation consists of 403 life-size figures covering an expanse of 420 square meters of ocean floor off the coast of Isla Mujeres in Mexico.

La Evolución Silenciosa (areal), 2010 Isla Mujeres Mexico

La Evolución Silenciosa, 2010 Isla Mujeres Mexico

This underwater scene is perfectly reminiscent of Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang’s army of Terra Cotta warriors from the 3rd century BC. Even individual figures standing alone evoke memories of the smooth clay faces of the Chinese warriors, who stood guard dutifully for thousands of years before their accidental discovery in 1974. Putting Taylor’s figures together in unified formation only punctuates an uncanny similarity. What I love about this homage, intentional or not, is the adaptability of this functionality concept that has survived since the earliest days of art, from the days when art’s purpose was still widely considered to be solely utilitarian.

The Terra Cotta Army was created over the span of a lifetime, costing the lives of numerous artisans due to the dangers of air pockets in such large figures while baking in the kiln, but the sacrifice and craftsmanship were utilized for one purpose: serving the emperor. He didn’t want to look at the Warriors, or appreciate their fine features, he wanted to secure his power in the afterlife by bringing with him thousands of souls who would serve as his subjects and protectors.

As it has done since its creation, the function of art has shifted tremendously since the time of the Warriors’ creation. Creating artificial reef to look exactly like reef is interesting, but not necessarily art. La Evolución Silenciosa is an interesting artistic process in that it begins as an amazingly diverse array of characters, ranging from a pregnant woman to wizened old man to a young child, and over time it morphs into something else. It turns from a foreign object into part of its environment; it adapts and it become accepted.

That’s what I love about this work. It is art that is accepted by the world, literally. Taylor doesn’t wage a futile fight against the inevitable decomposition of his creation: he encourages it to change and become what it needs to survive and become useful in its environment.

Details of figures from La Evolución Silenciosa:

Science and art, great combination.