Jul 6, 2009
Jason de Caires creates underwater sculptures. Instead of trying to create unchanging and lasting works, he encourages the organic growth of coral and other organisms across his creations. He’s working on a new project in Mexico at the moment, but we caught him on dry land for a few questions.
On a practical level, how are your sculptures installed, and how can viewers see them while they’re underwater?
Depending on the weight and design of the sculptures most are deployed from a vessel with a lifting arm. Once in the water float bags are attached and the piece(s) can be carefully lifted and moved into the final position. Larger pieces are made in separate units and then connected underwater. Anchoring screws are used to connect the base of the piece to the ocean substrate. The whole operation can take up to ten crew members and five divers. The largest piece Vicissitudes took me a week (four hours per day) underwater to assemble.
The work is shallow enough to be viewed by snorkelling, diving or from a glass bottom boat. The experience of each visit can be entirely different depending on the prevailing weather conditions and the interaction of marine life. My work has also started to develop another life in its digital reproduction.
Could you explain how your sculptures interact with and are affected by their aquatic environment?
The materials and construction of the work are designed to encourage and promote marine life. The texture, chemical composition and design actively encourage the settlement of embryonic corals. Areas of shelter and void space provide a habitant for creatures to breed and take refuge.
As time passes and the settlement increases and series of natural events begins to enfold. Besides the development of hard and soft corals, numerous fish graze on algae that collects on the surfaces and I have documented octopus, shrimp and moray eels living under or within the structures.
A few of your works (e.g. Lost Correspondent, Still Life) are of familiar scenes transformed by an alien environment. Is this in opposition to the near sacred reverence and desperate restoration of traditional art?
Most definitely, the works are all intended to highlight the temporal and organic nature of our existence – not celebrating or depicting moments from the past but aiming to remind the viewer of the inevitability of change and evolution. I also feel we have started to alienate ourselves from our natural surroundings and hope the work portrays a symbiotic and sustainable relationship with our environment.
Tell us about the sculpture you’re working on in Mexico.
I am currently resident in Cancun working on the first phase of an ambitious new project. The initial two sculptures are called La Jardinera de la Esperanza (’The Gardener of Hope’) and El Archivero de los Sueños (’The Archive of Lost Dreams’). The first depicts a garden scene with a young woman surrounded by a series of plant pots and garden utensils. Once the piece is submerged, coral fragments and cuttings from storm damage will be “planted” into the pots (A well established technique for coral conservation). It aims to portray human intervention as both positive and life sustaining.
The second piece is the creation of an underwater archive, maintained by a male registrar. The archive is a collection of hundreds of messages in bottles which have been brought together by the natural forces of the sea. The last piece in the Cancun project is a monumental installation of over 200 figurative works, depicting the change from indigenous (Mayan) cultures to a present multicultural society.
All the works will form part of a new underwater museum located in a protected marine reserve.