British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor has made it his mission to use his talent to conserve our ecosystems by creating underwater museums. Over the years, the environmentalist has submerged over 850 massive artworks in numerous site-specific "sculpture parks" worldwide. On February 1, 2021, Taylor unveiled his latest endeavor — The Underwater Museum of Cannes.
Located on the seabed off the Island of Sainte-Marguerite — about half a mile offshore from the French Riviera town of Cannes — the permanent installation is the artist's first foray into the Mediterranean Sea. "The main goal was to bring attention to the fact that our oceans need our help," the sculptor told Dezeen. "Marine ecologies have been decimated by human activity in the Mediterranean over the past few decades, and it is not obvious what is taking place when observing the sea from afar."
The Underwater Museum of Cannes comprises 6 massive, 3-dimensional portraits featuring local residents of various ages. They range from Maurice, an 80-year-old fisherman, to Anouk, a 9-year-old student. Towering over 6-feet-tall and weighing 10 tons, the faces are sectioned into two parts, with the outer part resembling a mask.
The masked portions are a nod to Sainte-Marguerite's history and culture. The approximately 3-mile-long island was reputedly where the mysterious "Man in the Iron Mask" — the inspiration behind numerous movies — was imprisoned. They also serve as metaphors for the world's oceans, which appear powerful and unbeatable from the surface but house an extremely fragile, finely balanced ecosystem that is extremely vulnerable to careless human activities.
To make the museum easily accessible to snorkelers, the statues, which lie off the island's southern shore, have been placed at shallow depths of between 6 to 10 feet. Though the waters surrounding the sculptures now appear a pristine blue, the seabed was filled with old boat engines, pipes, and other human-made debris when the project began about four years ago.
Besides removing the trash, Taylor also wanted to restore the area's Posidonia seagrass — aka, the lungs of the Mediterranean — meadows to their full glory. Also known as Neptune grass or Mediterranean tapeweed, just one square meter of the seagrass can generate up to 10 liters of oxygen daily through photosynthesis. The lush seagrass also helps prevent coastal erosion and provides shelter and breeding grounds for many marine creatures.
The artist achieved the goal by strategically placing the massive sculptures in the pockets of white sand between the meadows, thus preventing boats from anchoring close to the museum. Taylor says that his statues, made of non-toxic pH-neutral materials, are designed to allow coral larvae to attach and thrive. At the same time, the creases and folds provide the perfect refuge for tiny fishes and crustaceans.
"The idea of creating an underwater museum was to draw more people underwater, to foster a sense of care and protection," the artist told Dezeen. "If we lived next to a forest or nature reserve where the animals were extracted on an industrial scale and we dumped unwanted waste there would be a public outcry, whereas this is happening every day in our surrounding waters and it largely goes unnoticed."
Resources: Dezeen.com, underwatersculpture.com, designboom.com