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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Grenadian coral sculptures present unique eco solution

Published: February 3, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

You try to rub your eyes before you realize you are wearing a snorkel mask. Could it be true? Life-size child sculptures facing outward stand hand-in-hand in a circle on the ocean floor. Molinere Bay in Grenada has been a tourist destination for years, but Jason deCaires Taylor’s underwater sculpture garden—commissioned in 2006—serves as new bait for eager tourists hoping to get a taste of the Caribbean coral reef without realizing that Taylor’s mission is ingeniously deceptive.

Though snorkelers are technically swimming in the Molinere reef, Taylor’s underwater installations actually lure them away from the endangered coral. The World Atlas of Coral Reefs found that humans are responsible for threatening approximately 58 percent of coral reefs worldwide. The Taylor installations found in this bay—Vicissitudes, Grace Reef and The Lost Correspondent—are constructed from eco-friendly cement that over time changes into an artificial coral reef. This deception is a small price to pay for the experience.

Worlds different than viewing framed art in a museum, stumbling across the human sculptures makes you suddenly forget the clunkiness and irritation brought with wearing snorkel gear. Perhaps 50 people are herded into the reef at a time, but as you approach the sculptures placed tens of meters apart along the neatly swept ocean floor, you experience the sculptures as something almost natural to their environment. You imagine that they are remnants of a shipwreck, sand-dusted and decaying. You are suddenly weightless with the sense of discovery.

Once found, the installation of The Lost Correspondent seems to mock this idea of discovery. A man is sitting at his desk in front of a typewriter. The more experienced divers may descend the 22 feet to find that alongside the typewriter on the desk are several newspaper articles, many concerned with Cuban politics of the 1970s. It is incredible to witness the transformation of the sculpture as it is absorbed into its environment; its surface is rough with moss-like vegetation.

The most eerie of the installations is Grace Reef, with its tomb-like placement of 16 full-scale bodies along the Bay’s floor. They seem as though they were recently uncovered at an archaeological dig, oddly resembling the bodies dug out at the site of the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. These bodies, however, lie stiff with arms at their sides as if they were dumped out of their coffins. They look up at you as you snorkel overhead. Your body is the site of collision: As your back basks in the sun above, you are met with the icy stare of these statues below.

The underwater sculpture park in Molinere Bay is a unique success in the realms of environmental action and contemporary art. No matter what your reactions to the statues are, one cannot deny the earnest appreciation for one’s environment and the measures one can take to protect it. Coral reefs bring an immeasurable amount of benefit to human beings, without which perhaps up to two million species of marine plants and animals would be lost. Call it a cry for protecting coral reefs. Call it a cry for revolutionizing art as we know it. Whatever the cause, the impact is there and not for long, as it will soon be absorbed by the coral.