29th Mar 2017 - Environment
Beauty from the Beast: Jason deCaires Taylor’s Microplastic Sculptures
Jason deCaires Taylor is an international artist of British and Guyanan descent famed for submerging his sculptures in the ocean to create underwater galleries that become the basis for living reefs. Having created underwater sculpture parks in the waters of the West Indies, Mexico and Lanzarote and most recently submerging the 5 metre high Atlas, the largest underwater sculpture in the world, in the Bahamas, Taylor then revisits each of his creations to photograph how they are being colonized by corals and assimilated into the ecosystem. His sculptures are more than striking works of art. By their very presence they have environmental benefits on multiple levels, from creating habitats that relieve the pressures on nearby reefs through to raising awareness and educating those who enjoy his work (including visiting divers) about the plight of the oceans.
Taylor’s latest work, however, flips this model on its head and rather than being placed in the ocean to add to it, it is created from and permanently removes from the ocean a source of physical pollution: microplastics.
The Canary Islands, where Taylor is currently working on a major new underwater museum for the Atlantic Ocean, sits in the path of the wind driven ocean surface current of the same name. Beaches in the Canaries are therefore vulnerable to the impact of plastic litter that originates elsewhere and is collected and carried by the Canary Current until it is deposited on beaches such as the one at Famara on the island of Lanzarote. On this beach, Taylor’s team collected small microplastics from the high tide line and took them back to their studio where they washed and sieved them before setting them into a life cast mould to produce a lifesize sculpture of a prone human form. The finished microplastic sculpture was then taken back to the beach from which the plastic had been collected and photographed on the water’s edge to publicise the fact that 8 million metric tons of plastic find their way into our oceans each year. Rather than leaving it in-situ like the rest of his works Taylor then removed the sculpture permanently from the beach and took it back to his studio, removing the plastic from the natural environment once and for all.
The culmination of this project, Plasticide, was produced in collaboration with Greenpeace and was unveiled last Thursday outside The National Theatre on London’s South Bank. Weighing in at two and half tonnes, it depicts in grey uniformity a lifesize, very stereotypical, family beach picnic complete with sulking children and marauding gulls vomiting a rainbow of plastic waste collected from beaches. It’s a stark message to consumer goods companies, packaging companies, authorities and policy makers; a warning of what could be and what has already begun.
“The scene depicted in this sculpture would have seemed surreal fifty years ago, but it’s now a grim reality. All plastic is made on land and it’s here we need to see action to reduce the flow of plastic into our oceans”
Louise Edge, Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace