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Monday, January 24, 2011

What Lies Beneath...

La Evolución Silenciosa (The Silent Evolution).  One of four sculptural
installations by artist Jason deCaries Taylor.

In 2009, the National Marine Park of Yucatan, Mexico, became the site of a monumental (literally) underwater museum called MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte).  The project, a joint effort of Jaime Gonzalez Cano of the Park, Roberto Diaz of The Cancun Nautical Association, and sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, is one of the largest artificial underwater attractions in the world.  The Marine Park attracts approximately 750,000 visitors a year, which puts a lot of strain on the natural resources there.  It is hoped that the project, which provides an unusual artificial reef, will give the natural reefs a break and allow them to regenerate. 

The National Marine Park of Isla Mujeres, Punta Canyon
and  Punta Nizuc in the northern state of Quintana Roo.
The sculptures are within the boundaries of the Park
on sandy areas of substrate close to these areas.
There are four installations.  The first one is La Evolución Silenciosa (The Silent Evolution), a collection of 400 life-size figures that depict the visual and social changes of humanity over the past centuries.  The casts were taken from a broad cross-section of humankind, although mostly Mexican.  All occupations of life are covered:  a fisherman, yoga instructor, student, carpenter, and an accountant, among many others.  This is a gathering of people whose appearance will change over time as coral grows and marine life fills in the spaces. 

Visitors can swim around the sculptures and observe them.  For those visitors that prefer not to dive, there are glass-bottomed boats available.  The sculptures are 9 meters (about 29-1/2 feet) below the surface.  There is no fee to enter the Marine Park, but visitors are advised to use a tour guide.

El Coleccionista de los Sueños Perdidos (The Archive of Lost Dreams) is another of the installations.  This unusual depiction is of a male archivist who tends the archives of messages in bottles.  According to the artist the archivist is cataloging and sorting the bottles into categories:  fear, hope, loss, or belonging.  Communities from a wide variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds were invited to provide the messages in an attempt to document their values and hopes for future generations.

The third installation is Hombre en Llamas (Man on Fire), a lone defiant man standing upright with 75 holes planted with live cuttings of fire coral (Millepora alcicorni).  This brown, yellow, and orange coral stings when touched, hence its name.  The intent is that once the figure is covered in this coral it will make the man appear to be on fire.  This statue weighs over one ton, and was cast from a local fisherman.
The last of the current installations is called La Jardinera de la Esperanza (The Gardener of Hope).  This young girl is lying on patio steps propagating pots with live coral cuttings that were placed in them.  These coral cuttings, like the ones on Man on Fire, were rescued from reefs where they were damaged by people and weather activity.  By providing a new substrate, the coral can be conserved.

Further installations are planned in the area.  The plans for this year include commissioning artists, local and international, to contribute their work.  Also underwater cultural events are planned to celebrate both science and the arts.

This is not the first time Jason deCaires Taylor has worked underwater.  He also has 65 sculptures in another National Marine Park in Mollinere Bay in Grenada. There was considerable damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004.  Then in 2005,  Hurricane Emily added to the damage of the area.  The sculptures have provided a new base for marine life and by attracting visitors give the natural reefs a chance to recuperate.  He also has other small-scale underwater sculptures in Great Britain, which can be seen on his website.

This is an interesting concept and solution to saving the coral reefs.  Time will tell how effective it will be, but in the meantime it's a chance to experience art and nature together.  Is the man a genius or crazy? And is there a difference?  

All Images courtesy of Jason deCaires Taylor from his website.