Jason Taylor: new art fit into the environment

If in the days of Marcel Duchamp and other merry Dadaists it was fashionable to exhibit bicycle wheels and urinals in galleries, now the opposite is true – progressive artists strive to organically fit their works into the environment. Because of this, art objects sometimes grow in the most unexpected places, very remote from the opening days. 

35-year-old British sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor literally drowned his exhibition at the bottom of the sea. This is what he became famous for, securing the title of the first and chief specialist in underwater parks and galleries. 

It all started with an underwater sculpture park in the Gulf of Molinier off the coast of the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. In 2006, Jason Taylor, a graduate of the Camberwell College of Art, an experienced diving instructor and part-time underwater naturalist, with the support of the Grenada Ministry of Tourism and Culture, created an exhibition of 65 life-size human figures. All of them were cast from environmentally friendly concrete in the image and likeness of local machos and muchachos who posed for the artist. And since concrete is a durable thing, someday the great-grandson of one of the sitters, a little Grenadian boy, will be able to say to his friend: “Do you want me to show you my great-grandfather?” And will show. Telling a friend to put on a snorkeling mask. However, a mask is not necessary – the sculptures are installed in shallow water, so that they can be clearly seen both from ordinary boats and from special pleasure yachts with glass bottoms, through which you can look at the underwater gallery without burning your eyes on the blinding film of sun glare. 

Underwater sculptures are a bewitching sight and at the same time creepy. And in Taylor’s sculptures, which through the eyepiece of the water surface seem to be a quarter larger than their real size, there is a special strange attraction, the same attraction that has long made people look with apprehension and curiosity at mannequins, exhibitions of wax figures and large, skillfully made dolls … When you look on the mannequin, it seems that he is about to move, raise his hand or say something. Water sets the sculptures in motion, the swaying of the waves creates the illusion that underwater people are talking, turning their heads, stepping from foot to foot. Sometimes it even seems that they are dancing … 

Jason Taylor’s “Alternation” is a round dance of twenty-six sculptures of children of different nationalities holding hands. “Become children, stand in a circle, you are my friend, and I am your friend” – this is how you can briefly retell the idea that the artist wanted to visualize with this sculptural composition. 

In Grenadian folklore, there is a belief that a woman who dies in childbirth returns to earth to take a man with her. This is her revenge for the fact that the connection with the male sex brought her death. She turns into a beauty, seduces the victim, and then, before taking the unfortunate person to the realm of the dead, takes on her real appearance: a skull-thin face, sunken eye sockets, a wide-brimmed straw hat, a white blouse of national cut and a long flowing skirt … With the filing of Jason Taylor, one of these women – “Devil” – descended into the world of the living, but petrified on the seabed and never reached her final destination … 

Another sculptural group – “Reef of Grace” – does resemble sixteen drowned women, freely sprawled on the seabed. Also in the underwater gallery there is “Still Life” – a set table that hospitably welcomes divers with a jug and a snack, there is a “Cyclist” rushing into the unknown, and “Sienna” – a young amphibian girl from a short story by writer Jacob Ross. Taylor specially made her body out of rods so that fish could freely scurry between them: this is his metaphor for the relationship of this unusual girl and the water element. 

Not only the optical properties of water modify the underwater gallery. Over time, its exhibits become a home for indigenous marine inhabitants – the faces of the statues are covered with a fluff of algae, molluscs and arthropods settle on their bodies … Taylor created a model, on the example of which one can observe the processes taking place every second in the depths of the sea. In any case, this is how this park is positioned – not just an art that needs to be carelessly enjoyed, but an extra reason to think about the fragility of nature, about how important it is to take care of it. In general, watch and remember. Otherwise, you run the risk of becoming a representative of a lost civilization, the best achievements of which will be chosen by algae … 

Perhaps, precisely because of the right accents, the Grenada underwater park did not become a unique “piece” work, but laid the foundation for a whole direction. From 2006 to 2009, Jason implemented several more small projects in different parts of the world: in the river near the XNUMXth century castle of Chepstow (Wales), at the West Bridge in Canterbury (Kent), in the prefecture of Heraklion on the island of Crete. 

At Canterbury, Taylor laid two female figures on the bottom of the River Stour so that they can be clearly seen from the bridge at the West Gate to the castle. This river separates the new and the old city, the past and the present. The current washing Taylor’s sculptures will gradually destroy them, so that they will serve as a kind of clock, powered by natural erosion … 

“May our hearts never become as hard as our minds,” reads the note from the bottle. From such bottles, as if left over from ancient navigators, the sculptor created the Archive of Lost Dreams. This composition was one of the first in an underwater museum in Mexico, near the city of Cancun, which Taylor began to create in August 2009. Quiet Evolution is the name of this project. Evolution is quiet, but Taylor’s plans are grandiose: they plan to install 400 sculptures in the park! The only thing missing is Belyaev’s Ichthyander, who would be the ideal caretaker of such a museum. 

The Mexican authorities decided on this project to save the coral reefs near the Yucatan Peninsula from the crowds of tourists who literally take apart the reefs for souvenirs. The idea is simple – having learned about the huge and unusual underwater museum, tourist divers will lose interest in the Yucatan and will be drawn to Cancun. So the underwater world will be saved, and the country’s budget will not suffer. 

It should be noted that the Mexican Museum, despite the claims of superiority, is not the only museum under water in the world. On the western coast of Crimea, since August 1992, there has been the so-called Alley of Leaders. This is a Ukrainian underwater park. They say that the locals are very proud of it – after all, it is included in international catalogs of the most interesting places for scuba diving. Once there was an underwater cinema hall of the Yalta film studio, and now on the shelves of a natural niche you can see busts of Lenin, Voroshilov, Marx, Ostrovsky, Gorky, Stalin, Dzerzhinsky. 

But the Ukrainian museum is strikingly different from its Mexican counterpart. The fact is that for the Mexican exhibits are made specifically, which means taking into account the underwater specifics. And for the Ukrainian, the creator of the museum, diver Volodymyr Borumensky, gathers leaders and socialist realists from the world one by one, so that the most ordinary land busts fall to the bottom. In addition, the Lenins and Stalins (to Taylor this would probably have seemed the greatest blasphemy and “environmental irresponsibility”) are regularly cleaned of algae. 

But are the statues on the seabed really fighting to save nature? For some reason, it seems that Taylor’s project has something in common with holographic advertising in the night sky. That is, the true reason for the emergence of underwater parks is the human desire to develop more and more new territories. We already use most of the land and even the earth’s orbit for our own purposes, now we are converting the seabed into an entertainment area. We are still floundering in the shallows, but wait, wait, or there will be more!

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