Author Matt Thompson Illustration Graham Roumieu
English artist Jason deCaires Taylor’s latest installation, while still a work in progress, already boasts more visitors than any other in Latin America—provided we’re counting fish. Located just off the coast of Cancun—and about 20 feet below the sea—the creation consists of more than 200 statues (at a weight of three to six tons each) bolted to a coral reef. The project resembles a sort of ready-made lost civilization, a field of monuments to our time slowly being covered in coral. “Many people who see it think it’s a few hundred years old,” Taylor says. “When in fact the oldest pieces were put in less than two years ago.”
This confusion is, of course, part of the point. The artist purposefully picks images and items that are representative of today. A scuba diver prowling off Grenada, where Taylor has 60 sculptures, might come across a typist with hands permanently poised above a concrete keyboard, or a bicyclist frozen midpedal propped against the edge of a reef, or a table set for breakfast, complete with a bowl of stone oranges. “I’ve gone back to visit some of my older pieces and found long beards of sea sponges growing off of a figure’s cheek, or big fans of coral on the forehead,” says Taylor. The statues are built from a special kind of pH-neutral concrete that’s more than 10 times stronger than the stuff used in parking garages, a perfect anchor for growing sea life.
Taylor, who spent his childhood living in Malaysia, Spain and Portugal, seems perfectly suited to this project. The 36-year-old has worked as a diving instructor and engineer as well as sculptor. But perhaps his biggest influence, he says, was the graffiti he began doing after his family settled in southern England. “Graffiti is so uncontrolled—it’s governed by chance and opportunity,” he says. “That’s what I love about underwater work. Now I’m just providing the walls. The sponges and coral decorate them.”