Sculptor, JASON de CAIRES TAYLOR
continues to inspire
By Norman Warwick
The works exhibited in a 1968 New York exhibition, Earth Works referred to on our cover, were built in and from the natural environment, but at that time working with such ambition did not necessarily reveal environmentalist responsibility.
Nevertheless, I wrote in an article on these pages in July 2019 that ´Rising Tide was part of the hugely successful Totally Thames Festival shown in London last month. This part of the collection, put together by an rtista taking his first London commission, consisted of four equine sculptures placed on the shores of The Thames at Nine Elms. Like Gorman’s iron men at Crosby, they were placed looking seaward and best visible at low tide.
However the artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, (left) is better known to me for another project. He is currently putting the finishing touches to a project in my home town of Playa Blanca on Lanzarote. This project is the building of The Museo Atlantico, which will be the first underwater museum in Europe.
Before I left Rochdale I was told that the cost would be prohibitive even of the laying of stones engraved with poetry along the bed of the part of The Roch to be revealed in the town’s current project. Given that response, an underwater museum seems particularly ambitious
Both the Rising Tide exhibits (right) and the work on the Museo Atlantico received amazing press in September when images of both works were spread all over the social media. In fact my research revealed radio broadcasts, major daily papers and magazines, arts trade press and tv coverage on ITV and BBC as well ABC USA, all of which referenced not only Jason’s Rising Tide exhibition but also his work here on Lanzarote.
Jason has been living on the island since commencing building the Museo Atlantico eighteen months ago. I have no doubt that the profile enjoyed by Rising Tide will be of great benefit to the island when the work is eventually opened.
The Totally Thames initiative was the brainchild of London Mayor Boris Johnson. He was sent a copy of a feature review of the project in Lancelot, the Lanzarote Tourist Guide, to which he responded personally.
Publicity and Media Relations are being handled by Four Colman Gerry, one of the UK’s leading PR firms, who also represent the Man Booker prize.The innovation of Jason’s building of an underwater museum on Lanzarote seems to fit an island with an identity moulded by the late artist Cesar Manrique, as featured recently on these pages. He adored the island of his birth and made his life’s work out of protecting and extolling its natural features, sculpting a shell around nature, without altering the original scene, to better present the tableau.
Subsequent to that 1968 exhibition, and the emergence of Earthworks or Land Art, Tatylor´s work seems to have become aligned to such descriptions. The introduction of art that engages with, and addresses social issues such as poverty, addiction, capitalism or equal rights (to name a very few) brought forward another new field of artistic expression, where art has become a form of activism. We currently exist in a time of great environmental damage, where the destructive activities of industry and the daily consumptive habits of individuals, wreak environmental havoc on our planet. Each day, habitats are destroyed, whole species are lost and climate change alters the living conditions across the world. Small changes can be made that can ultimately have a big impact, the first step of which is bringing about environmental awareness of the conditions of the various ecosystems around the globe.
In this current heightened climate of global environmental awareness, a new form of art that maintains aesthetics (in a traditional sense) but is also conceptually-based, aims to raise awareness of the broad health of the environment or highlight specific concerns. Building on the foundations laid out by the Land Artists, a new generation of artists has emerged that place environmentalism at the forefront of their practice, each with unique concerns and ways of addressing these concerns to draw the attention of the viewer. The art of Jason deCaires Taylor is situated within this emerging environmental paradigm of art, taking the viewer to the depths of the ocean.
Among the many strengths of art, is the ability to introduce the viewer to new ideas and thoughts. However, to be an artwork that is active in bringing about positive change, it must be more than thought provoking. Taylor’s installations provide wide reaching benefits on many levels. They are infused with complex concepts and social commentary while working with and enhancing the marine environments they are placed in. Whole coral reefs are subject to bleaching through rising sea water temperatures, changes in acidity, pollution from agricultural chemicals and removal of key species by over fishing, resulting in the destruction of entire marine habitats, and prompting initiatives like artificial reefs to be produced.
Taylor’s artworks are essentially artificial reefs, formed of carefully manufactured sculptures installed at various locations around the world. Each sculpture is created using non-toxic, pH neutral marine grade cement, free from harmful pollutants, becoming an integral part of the local ecosystem. The cement is highly durable, with a rough texture that encourages coral larvae to attach and thrive, while nooks and dark cubbyholes formed of folds of clothing provide homes for fish and crustaceans. The timing of installation is significant to ensure they are in place downstream before the larval coral spawning occurs, yet not so early that other sea life colonises it before the coral can take hold.
The placement of sculptures is further carefully considered to maximise positive environmental impact. In many cases deCaires Taylor’s sculptures are situated away from existing reefs often in areas of barren sandbanks to boost diversity, but also to draw tourists away from the delicate ecosystems and fragile corals of existing reefs, where divers may do more harm than good with their well-intentioned curiosity.
All of these careful considerations go into each of deCaires Taylor sculptural installations, yet there are further benefits to his artificially created sculptural reefs, as while each work is produced in consultation with marine scientists to maximise their impact, the scientists themselves can study and monitor the development of a functioning ecosystem from its very beginning through to becoming well established. There are also economic benefits as they can provide alternative employment for local fisherman working as museum guides to bring visitors to the underwater galleries either deep sea diving, snorkelling or in glass-bottomed boats. Entrance fees to the sculpture parks also provide crucial funding for further marine conservation efforts and coastal patrols to enforce protective laws.
Visiting deCaires Taylor’s underwater museums allows visitors the opportunity to broaden their minds and educate themselves on fields that are outside their daily lives, and experience samples of worlds beyond their own in a safe and non-destructive manner. For marine ecologies, this is a significant benefit as they are an environment that most people will only experience briefly while holidaying, if at all.
Describing these collections of underwater sculptures as a museum highlights another conceptual layer of Taylor’s works. Museums house collections of objects that the everyday person may not usually see in their lifetime, yet behind the scenes museums involve research into different cultures and preservation of objects from ages past or foreign lands. In this way, the underwater museums are no different, as Taylor states:
“We call it a museum for a very important reason. Museums are places of preservation, conservation and education. They’re places where we keep objects of great value to us, where we value them simply for being themselves.” Ted Talk
As deCaires Taylor describes, in both the conservation and preservation of marine ecologies and in the ability to educate the world about the health of the oceans, his underwater museums have an essential role to play in fostering care and understanding of marine ecologies. Because of the brevity of most people’s exposure to our ocean environments, the concerns of the oceans fall from the forethought of people’s minds. Therefore, exposure of a wider audience to marine ecologies combined with the educative function of galleries, encourages prolonged thought on the condition of the environment and the role that humans can play in ensuring its continued health, or indeed its destruction. Over the past few decades, we have lost over 40% of our natural coral reefs. The World Resources Institute projects that 90% of coral reefs will be in danger by 2030, and all of them by 2050. The significance of these museums is highlighted in the creation of the world’s first underwater sculpture park, which was founded and constructed by deCaires Taylor in 2006 and is recognised as one of the top 25 Wonders of the World by National Geographic.
deCaires Taylor underwater museums (above) appear in locations all over the world, reflecting the global concerns that affect underwater ecologies.. While the groups of sculptures can be conceptually viewed as a museum, each individual sculpture contains its own personal message. A conceptual social commentary is made through the figures included in each installation. Before they gradually become obscured through the growth of marine life as the reef claims them, the figures show such groups as business professionals, a couple recognisably taking a selfie, or a man ensconced on a couch. All of these are indicative of the daily actions of humanity, living above the waves, often oblivious to the impact each of their actions can have on the environment. We can see ourselves in the everyday faces of these sculptural peoples that are entombed beneath the waves; the underwater context allowing an atmosphere of otherworldly reflection.
The figures are part of an underwater realm that brings forth fantasy and the imagination. Visitors to the various underwater museums who are able to sink themselves beneath the waves can experience the reality of marine life more directly and intimately that a traditional white-walled museum. Unconstrained by gravity their bodies are subjected to the feelings of weightlessness and the cool of the water, while the sounds are muted and visibility reduced and improved with the shifting tide and environmental conditions. These works truly allow you to step out of your daily life and enter an entirely different reality, charged with the notion that it is a reality under threat.
Each artwork is brought alive through its union with the biological marine life that attaches to it and thrives. There is a distinct interactivity between the living organisms and the sculptures. The various forms of ocean life complete the sculptures, transforming them from concrete to textured, living organisms like the figures in Viccisitudes; a name that reflects the changing conditions of the planet. In this installation a ring of people stand holding hands as the ocean takes them, coving their bodies with motley of coloured pinks, vibrant oranges, greens and greys. These colours shift with the changing filtered light that shines down upon them creating a patterned circlet on the ocean floor. These changing colours and tones and the gentle play of light are qualities that all of deCaires Taylor share, and it gives them a sense of calm and peace, and an ambience of mystery.
No two visits to any given sculpture will be quite the same. The changing formations of the sea surface affect the filtered light that scatters down to the ocean floor and depth alters the visual spectrum of colour that can be seen. Spawning and other ocean cycles also change the dynamic of these artworks, as it also affect the visibility of the waters while bringing forth new life to seed the sculptures, which may take hold and grow. The appearance of each sculpture is in many ways ephemeral as the coral grows and spreads out and other marine life, including fish and crustaceans inhabit the artworks, moving from a clean cement sculpture untouched by marine life to a mature coral reef and functioning ecosystem. As each artwork grows and becomes complete the original forms become obscured and a frequent visitor may mark the passage of time by these gradual changes.
deCaires Taylor installations bring environmental messages to a viewer already primed with an interest and passion in our oceans, as well as highlighting these environments to land-goers by calling attention to them through art. The movement of artworks from the gallery to the oceans represents a new frontier for both the arts and continued health of marine ecologies. Like the leap from gallery to the environment that occurred with EARTH WORKS, the oceans represent a new, contemporary frontier of artistic experimentation with its own challenges, particularly with artworks that endeavour to be remedial and thus need to be both non-toxic to the environment while promoting marine growth and health (right). For marine ecology, the works draw the viewers’ attention to the ocean and its continued health, and also encourage the viewer to experience it directly yet non-destructively and enter the ocean ecology to view deCaires Taylor’s sculptures directly. While these artworks can be viewed through exquisite underwater photography, a tribute to deCaires Taylor own photographic skills, it is only by immersing yourself in the ocean and becoming part of the environment that the sublime awe and presence can be experienced, and a full appreciation of the delicate, threatened marine ecosystems achieved.
The famous sculptor, known in Lanzarote for being the author of the Museo Atlántico and the work called ‘La Marea Creciente’ installed under the Castillo de San José and subsequently removed, seemingly under government edict, did not seem to make too much public comment about the decision to remove his commissioned work. Of course, there is that old saying about he who laughs loudest, and Jason must be having a wry, and rather loud chuckle to himself at present.
Now Jason has been ascibed as one of the hundred most inspiring people in the world by the Global 100 Inspirational Leaders – 2022 program.
The artist stands out in this well-known program that identifies notable leaders representing diverse geographies and cultures and driving social impact and innovation, in the arts, culture, politics, civil society and business. These are people with international leadership skills and the goal of the program is “to inspire more leaders to create positive change that will shape future business practices and benefit all organizations globally.”
In this list, personalities as well known as the technological entrepreneur Bill Gates (right) , the owner of Amazon Jeff Bezos, the communicator Oprah Winfrey or the popular Spanish chef José Andrés, especially famous in the US and who recently turned to the island of La Palma when its inhabitants lived their worst moments because of the volcano.
About Jason deCaires Taylor they point out in a review that “he is an environmentalist, sculptor and professional underwater photographer. He was the first of a new generation of artists to alter the concept of land art to a different medium: the marine environment. His Evolving Sculptures of Him support the life cycle of aquatic organisms as they are made of pH-neutral cement, demonstrating that Taylor’s concern goes beyond the aesthetics of his artwork. He opened the world’s first underwater sculpture museum and continues to share his art with people.”
The work of Jason deCaires in Lanzarote, the “Atlantic Submarine Museum” and “The Rising Tide”, four sculptors representing the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, located under the Castle of Sam José, was unfortunately ‘forgotten’ by the new island administration directed by the socialist Dolores Corujo. The museum ceased to be in the tourist promotion of Lanzarote, when the president of the Cabildo understood that this artist was not worthy of being in the Manrique model of Tourist Centers. This decision was highly questioned in creative, artistic and cultural circles on the island. It was seen more as an effort to put an end to the initiatives of the nationalist Pedro San Ginés, former president of the Cabildo de Lanzarote, than really as a cultural criterion.
Jason´s work also enjoyed a similarly successful installation on the Thames embankments in London, prior to the opening of the underwater museum at Lanzarote. This gave hima high prfile at the time in the UK print nd electronic media.
At that time, In a feature on these pages about Jason, I spoke of how his work reminded of the incredible Another Place installation on the Crosby beaches on the coast of North West Enfland, about which I had written the following piece of ´subconscious´ writing. All the riddles and emotions and sense of timelessness expressed in this writing, designed to recall my feelings at seeing Gormley´s work for the first time, were felt too on seeing Jason´s statues beneath Castille on the shoreline in Arrecife.
I do remember that, when his marvellous equine statues were removed from the waterfront in Lanzarote´s capital, I felt a sense of loss. I felt that something that had very quickly come to be regarded as having been there forever had disappeared. There was something of a public outcry, and The Cabidlo did their best to justify their decion, whicxh I do believe had been made in all good faith.
I think there was a perceived difficulty in the government´s lauding of all Manrique had achieved for us whilst at the same time as we might be seen as celebrating new, modern artists. The Manrique I feel I have come to know, since learning of his work and his legacy, would surely be looking down on us delighted to see a contemporary young artisat similarly marrying landscape, seascape and art.
There are a couple of public benches. on the pavements up beyond the castle. on which I would sit and gaze at Jason´s work when it was fully visible at low tide. Even as I looked at his creatures I would remember The Gormley exhibition, and conduct a compare and contrast in my mind.
I have never met Jason, although it remains an ambition to interview him for these pages, so I cannot say whether his inclusion in a list of the one hundred most important men on the planet gives him a sense of validation after what might have felt like a baffling experience in seeing his work removed from a prime place at the seaward entrance to Lanzarote´s capital.
I first became aware of Jason´s work even before we came to live here in 2015, but that was through his work in London really. Then, only shortly after we had arrived here to live we became aware of him again (not having realised earlier the Lanzarote connection). Then when we had been here only a few weeks we would often catch glimpses of Jason working on his pieces on a flat, cliff top arta just behind the marina in our new home town of Playa Blanca. We followed the process with interest and ran some pieces in the local press here, as well as on these pages, about his work.
We would often stop and watch from the shore the complex work necessary to carry the sculptures out in to the sea and place it on the bed, by remotely steered cranes. We were amazed, too, by how their placements were so set to catch the lights of sunrise and sunset, and how, in an area so full of the working technology of a 21st century port and cruise liner station, these silvery and somehow contemplative pieces of art took us back to another time, another place.
On hearing of Taylor´s inclusion on this list of 100 important people, I went to find my stream of consciousness poem on Gormley´s Another Place and on Jason´s underwater museum here on Lanzarote. I offer the piece again below as, to me, it certainly now reads as being of the timeless relationship between Man and Land and sea and Art that Gormley and Taylor have each achieved in their work
Greater love hath no man for his readers than to write an article when he could have been exploring his local landscape to catch glimpses of Angelina Jolie (pictured above). This week she and her co-stars, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden and Rob Stark, have been filming on Fuerteventura and Tenerife, before coming over here to Lanzarote to film more location shots on the island. The film they are making, a Marvel production called The Eternals, is expected to be the highest budget movie made in Europe this year.
My stalking, sorry, I mean research, took me on a drive over Le Geria and I passed the temporary film camp at Volcan El Cuevo (La Asomada), where filming was taking place on an esplanade between Masdach and Tegoyo in the area of the Camino del Guaco. The filming team was authorised by the city council to continue until Sunday 24th November, but I had caught sight of all this during the Thursday and Friday that were expected to be the duration of the shooting. It had been agreed that the film crew would ensure that everything was locally sourced. Indeed, Cabildo sources have confirmed that the production of the film has seen local companies and producers hired for the filming of the scenes of the island. This means important economic benefits that this blockbuster will leave as a legacy of their time on Lanzarote.
It has been widely reported that Angelina Jolie loves horses and a small photo-book has been published of her riding and walking them. She might have admired the stone horses and riders that until just before her arrival had been on show as an arts installation on a shoreline outside Arrecifie. However, the government had herded them up and moved them on, for reasons no one I know seems to understand.
The Rising Tide, the arts installation, has now been removed from the Arrecife shoreline. Montefuego TV called it Demolition Day and headlined their programme report as The Day Of Destruction at The International Museum Of Contemporary Art (MIAC) Lanzarote. In their six o´clock evening news they noted that 21st November 2019 was the day the ´destruction´ of the art installation The Rising Tide, as ´ordered´ by the government, was begun.´
It was only in September few months ago that it was reported that a strange request had been made by the council of Arrecife who had recently contacted British sculptor, Jason de Caires Taylor to remove the sculptural ensemble visible from the coast just outside the castle, in the sea. The reason given by the council is that it is believed to damage the work of Lanzarote artist César Manrique. The creator of The Rising Tide expressed great sadness at the decision and stressed his disappointment pointing out that MIAC is a museum of contemporary art housing a collection of artists with diverse works.
He commented that the work is a vehicle to convey a message of activism in defense of the environment and the argument that damages the image of César is a real madness, because It is precisely what César did, to make Lanzarote an open art center. The artist has decided that he would start negotiations to find out what he can do with the four horses. In his opinion the current location in Arrecife is the best place for this work and says he is continuously receiving messages from tourists that enjoy the vision of the sculptures. He also commented that this location is perfect because the tides do not damage the sculpted horses (left). He advised the council, that if they cannot find an alternative location, to return them to the UK.
According to the TV company, the ´targeted destruction´ of existing art is declared by the government as a step to preserve and protect the ‘true’ art of the island. The works of the artist César Manrique, who died in 1992, are regarded, say those responsible for the decision, as representative of that ´true art.´ and the removal of The Rising Tide has been decided upon as it is not a true representation of Lanzarote art.
According to Dolores Corujo, the President of the island, the ‘Lanzarote art doctrine’ is now in force. Translated literally it implores, “Let us focus on our main sign of identity: the stamp of César Manrique”.
The inference there can be easily identified and drawn. If the Cabildo is allowed to become arbiters of taste and quality, then our individual and communal opinions count for nothing. If Cabildo kite-marks are imposed upon on us, telling us what our artistic tastes should be, then what price democracy?
Some of the above is directly quoted from a press release by Montefeugo TV, and the words in quotation marks were printed as shown here. Knowing whether the words came direct from the TV Company or from The Cabildo or its President might help clear my thoughts, but I have to admit that I am genuinely worried about what seems to be a didactic governmental approach. This concern is deepened because I have recently noticed a simultaneous sea-change streamlining what has, until recently, been a very generous programme of Cabildo-supported arts and cultural events by aspiring and emerging island artists in a number of disciplines.
I worry about the long term effects of what feels like ´book-burning´ approach.
As a writer of the all across the arts pages for the Lanzarote Information web site for the past two or three years, and as author of my own twice weekly Sidetracks And Detours blog, I have loudly celebrated the diversity and accessibility of the island´s arts and cultural agenda. If I´m honest, I have often used Cesar Manrique and his canon of work as a comparison or reference point, and I have never tried to pretend that there are new artists who have yet matched Manrique´s genius or his prolific output.
Whenever I have spoken, though, to artists working on the island and interviewed them about their art form I have never sensed any resentment of Cesar´s status. Our artists, instead, rate him and praise him as highly as do we ourselves, the general art-loving public. However, if Manrique were bestowed an exclusivity that those artists could not share, nor even have their work looked at in the same light as Manrique´s, then surely alienation and resentment would breed amongst a generation that until now has felt only inspired by the work of perhaps the greatest artist the island has produced.
I don´t believe that art can exist in isolation. Da Vinci´s Mona Lisa surely speaks in some way, even smiles in some way, to characters in crayon-drawings by five year olds, and the stone horses of The Rising Tide discuss the state of the world with all who ever stop to look at them, in different light and waterscape depending on the time of the day. The work itself surely engages in conversation, even if not in agreement, with the Another Place exhibition / installation placed on the Crosby coastline in the UK by Antony Gormley.
The works of Manrique, Gormley and Taylor have led me to profound and enjoyable contemplation. Manrique re-shaped our island as our island re-shaped his Art, Taylor is currently taking art into the sea, in a quest for those horizons that the tin men of Gormley´s gaze on so …fixedly, as I described in a piece I called Have You Ever Seen Rain,….
Emerging from the womb of sand upper torso first becoming fully erect gazing seaward standing separate and solipsistic; devoid of soul yet soulful missing a heart beat yet hopeful yearning reaching to a horizon where a stiletto sun-shaft pierces uncompromising threatening clouds slowly dragging further out of their reach a miserable tide. Ageless, yet old from birth old before their Time bedraggled by barnacle and limpet stained by rain on the cold coast braceletted colourfully by those who come to visit them to conserve them to converse with them in silent commune to see whatever it is they with hollow sightless eyes can see.
Where sky is kissing sea cranes and rigs are huddled together as pirates plunderers and pillagers of the ocean bed where sleeps the pilgrim and the pioneer and the cartographer and the navigator and the sailor and Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water. Tin-god and iron-man standing on the beach in another place stoned by sand bronzed by sun and pissed on by dogs indifferent to their statutory rights of man rites of passage from land to sea to another land another place another race another time waiting for no man fashioned in his own image.
Naked they enter this world and naked they depart and if in the midst of life there be death then they in their deathlessness see thee more clearly hold thee more nearly and love thee more dearly than those building castles in the sand and are still looking to the horizon and hearing the sea song always the sea song as aborigines following song-lines to the coast.
Wave after wave after wave anointing their feet cleansing the pedestals upon which they stand android-like looking out to the sea again to the lonely sea and the sky and the weather coming in and the ebb and flow and ebb of dreams and a star to guide them by serving no purpose but to stand and await annihilation and regeneration impassive and proud as wind snakes sand and diamond dusting along the tide line, lifeguards perhaps or soldiers of King Canute landlocked sea-bound and permanent.
A primeval force born to die or to die trying casting long shadows motionless emotionless and emotive; silent witness to the drama still amidst the maelstrom of public opinion oblivious to furore of gods created by man on this a Sunday too a November afternoon of early darkness made earlier by a closure of the sky by rain clouds looming over the ocean obscuring vision leaving no trace of their existence no footprint no shadow for art is ephemeral; no progeny no notion of present past or future they will return from whence they came somewhere beyond our imagination beyond the farthest reach of time yet will stand… though the heavens may fall stars may dim suns may fade and moons may wane for they are not of this universe but are from the black holes in the sea the grave holes in the earth and the last priest on earth will utter
ashes to ashes
iron to rust
and none will mourn their passing
save we few who know or think we know or know we understand or understand we can never know we few who hear the sea song, always the sea song
telling us it’s not too far from Elvis Presley to Saint Bernadette
who see them submerging under wave after wave after wave one by one by one in single file in iron filings by nature defiled never to be entered into any missing persons file of those not missed by any next of kin and the tide will wash clean the sand and there will be nothing where there has always been nothing but the transients of man the beachcombers and the donkey riders and the sun-seekers and the bucket-and-spaders and the bird watchers and none will look out to the horizon and wonder what lies beyond or wonder whether the earth is round for we know it to be so and no one ever thought it was flat or thought that man made man-of-tin would emerge from the womb of sand and walk without moving out into the ocean to drown to escape the consciousness of all but those who remember Chinese migrant workers on shifting sands and we few who hear the sea song
singing the last boat home,……..so the healing process may begin.
© Just Poets, first published in Mailout 2005 photo gaze And another punctuation mark in this story was added
And another punctuation mark in this story was added recently by the installation and inauguration of the sculpture by Manolo González took place, which has been paid for thanks to “donations from citizens, companies and institutions”.
“César’s Gaze” (right) shows the creator sitting in the centre of an eye-shaped window, a metaphor for “his illustrious gaze, his visionary spirit and his innovative character”.
The work is a sample of the recognition of the people of Lanzarote who re-designed the island “from respect for its nature”, and who also transformed its future forever.