Jason de Caires Taylor
Jason de Caires Taylor’s underwater sculptures create a unique, absorbing and expansive visual seascape. Highlighting natural ecological processes Taylor’s interventions explore the intricate relationships that exist between art and environment. His works become artificial reefs, attracting marine life, while offering the viewer privileged temporal encounters, as the shifting sand of the ocean floor, and the works change from moment to moment.
The experience of being underwater is vastly different from that of being on land. There are physical and optical considerations that must be taken into account. Objects appear twenty five percent larger underwater, and as a consequence they also appear closer. Colours alter as light is absorbed and reflected at different rates, with the depth of the water affecting this further. The light source in water is from the surface, this produces kaleidoscopic effects governed by water movement, currents and turbulence. Water is a malleable medium in which to travel enabling the viewer to become active in their engagement with the work. The large number of angles and perspectives from which the sculptures can be viewed increase dramatically the unique experience of encountering the works.
The ocean is imbued with mystery. Underwater and devoid of white walls the viewer is unrestrained in their interaction with the work. Buoyancy and weightlessness enable a detached physical experience, encouraging encounters that are perceptual and personal. As time passes and the works change, they reshape and redefine the underwater landscape in unpredictable ways.
Vicissitudes depicts a circle of figures, all linked through holding hands. These are life-size casts taken from a group of children of diverse ethnic background. Circular in structure and located five meters below the surface, the work both withstands strong currents and replicates one of the primary geometric shapes, evoking ideas of unity and continuum.
The underwater environment is much like that of the outdoors. An object is subject to changes in light and prevailing weather conditions. The cement finish and chemical composition of Vicissitudes actively promotes the colonisation of coral and marine life. The figures are transformed over time by their environment, and conversely as this happens so they change the shape of their habitat. This natural process echoes the changes exacted through growing up. Social interchange shapes this process, while conversely as the product of a particular society we in turn invoke change on the workings and dynamics of that environment.
The sculpture proposes growth, chance, and natural transformation. It shows how time and environment impact on and shape the physical body. Children by nature are adaptive to their surroundings. Their use within the work highlights the importance of creating a sustainable and well-managed environment, a space for future generations. Taylor notes that close to forty percent of coral reefs worldwide has been destroyed and that this figure is set to increase. His work reminds us that the marine environment is in a constant state of flux, and that this in turn reflects poignantly the vicissitudes, changing landscapes, of our own lives.
Grace Reef is a series of sixteen figures each cast from the body of a Grenadian woman. Located across an expansive underwater area the work draws marine life to an area that has suffered substantial decimation through sustained storm damage. The work reflects the continuing evolution of the island and its people. The work reveals itself in dramatic and dynamic ways. The nature of the currents and the strength of the prevailing winds mean that entire sections of the work become covered, hidden and lost. At other times figures emerge and are fully visible.
A character from Jacob Ross’ short story, A Different Ocean from the book A Way to Catch the Dust (1999) Sienna is a young girl gifted in free diving. The story follows friendship and betrayal as her talent is exploited in the search for lost treasure. Taylor’s work Sienna takes its lead from this story. Its metal structure allows water currents to flow through the body of the sculpture creating an ideal habitat for filter feeding organisms. As the process of colonisation accelerates so Sienna gains physical substance. The work is ultimately created by the organisms that inhabit it, in the same way that a character in a book is given substance and temperament by the person reading it.
La Diablesse was commissioned through the Grenadian Board of Tourism. It celebrates the longstanding traditions of Caribbean story-telling and folklore. The term La Diablesse is taken from the French for She-Devil. A well-known character within Grenadian literature she has a face that is corpse-like, and a head half-hidden under a wide brimmed hat. Traditionally La Diablesse is dressed in a white blouse and a petticoat that runs to her feet. Her left foot is cloven and is said to warn victims of her approach. Despised by women, she is known for enchanting men before leading them to a violent death. Caribbean myth also foretells that if a woman dies during childbirth she will return as La Diablesse. Located deep underwater within a labyrinthine formation of coral, the sculpture emerges suddenly and unexpectedly, creating an abrupt and unsuspecting point of encounter.
The Lost Correspondent
The Lost Correspondent depicts a man sitting at a desk with a typewriter. The desk is covered with a collection of newspaper articles and cuttings that date back to the 1970s. Many of these have political significance, a number detail Grenada’s alignment with Cuba in the period immediately prior to the revolution. The work informs the rapid changes in communication between generations. Taking the form of a traditional correspondent, the lone figure becomes little more than a relic, a fossil in a lost world.
The Un-Still Life
Un-Still Life mirrors the classical composition of traditional still life tableaux. On a table is an arrangement of cement objects, a vase, bowl and fruit. In contrast to established ideas of stasis the work is perpetually changing, remaining a work in progress as layers build on its surface. This accumulated colonisation of coral becomes a physical equivalent to conventional mark making of drawing and painting. The work reflects the time-based observation associated with the classical study of still life composition. It reminds us that changes are inevitable.