Jason de Caires Taylor’s spectacular Museo del Atlántico project in Playa Blanca has received worldwide coverage after being installed in February. We spoke to him about one of the biggest art events of the year.
Jason Taylor’s studio overlooks the Marina Rubicón in Playa Blanca, and it’s in these surroundings that he and five assistants create the fascinating sculptures that are now being sunk off the shore of Playa Los Colorados to create Lanzarote’s underwater museum.
On the patio white concrete figures, cast from real-life subjects, are waiting to be finished. They include small children in jolateros – the little tin boats that are a feature of local fiestas – and strange figures of humans growing out of the knobbly trunks of drago trees, or covered in cactus leaves.
Many of the sculptures have already been put in place, including a parade of walking figures, tourists taking selfies under the waves and an installation called the The Raft of the Lampedusa, which references Gericault’s famous painting The Raft of the Medusa to draw attention to the plight of the refugees who have risked their lives to seek a better, safer life in Europe.
Over a coffee, Jason Taylor tells us more about how the project has developed…
So, Jason, has it all gone according to plan?
It’s been hard work, and we’ve had our share of problems, but once the momentum started it was fine. Now the castings are all finished, and we’ll be sinking more sculptures in a couple of weeks.
How many people did you cast?
There’ll be 300 figures on the seabed, and we cast all sorts of people, from Juan – a local guy who everyone in Playa Blanca knows, to fishermen from La Graciosa. It’s been fascinating to see children we cast two years ago return having grown.
Where do you get inspiration for your works, Jason?
From all over the place, but a lot of the inspiration comes from Lanzarote. There’ll be a botanical garden underwater, and it features plant life that is found on the island – the statues are almost all local residents and I’ve used other elements such as the jolateros, as well.
The reception and coverage has been incredible.
Yes, there was a large piece in The Guardian, but there have also been articles in the Daily Mail, on the BBC, French TV, Spain’s El País, CBS and NBC in the USA – even India and Argentina.
There’s also been some local opposition to the project. Did that surprise you?
It’s the first time I’ve encountered opposition in my career. I came to Playa Blanca because it was the right place for this project – no other reason.
Your underwater work stems from your interest in diving. Have you had time to dive much recently?
I dived recently, but it was the first time for ages. I was looking at the installations that have been sunk and was delighted to see that an octopus has already set up home in one of them after just two weeks.
How will the Museum work?
We’ll be selling tickets from an office near the studio, and divers will go out on boats to visit the museum. We’re already consulting with dive clubs to arrange their roles as guides. It’s important to me that this experience has a narrative, with an entrance and an exit, and that its meaning is clear. Guides are also necessary because it’s important that the works aren ́t touched – both for the sake of the marine life that will colonise the park, and the sake of the sculptures themselves.
You’ve been on Lanzarote two years, now, Jason. What are your impressions?
It slowly changes you. Living here has redefined my notion of space so that, when I leave the island I struggle a little to deal with crowded places. Coming back, I notice things such as the fact that there is no noise at all at night.
Silvana Ciocci was among the first subjects to be cast as a statue for the Museo del Atlantico.
Not many people have their own statues. How does it feel, Silvana?
It’s strange and very moving. It’s not like looking in a mirror – its hard to recognise yourself, but I also got to know my statue well. I saw it being made, recognised it passing by on the back of a lorry. I haven ́t seen it underwater yet, though.
It will be there for hundreds of years – what do you think of that?
It’s strange to think your children will be able to see you in many years time.
I’m from Argentina, I’ve lived on Lanzarote for 12 years and I love this island, but I don ́t know if I’ll stay. But even if I don ́t, my husband told me “You’ll be here forever”. I love that idea.