These works can be haunting, even eerie. Human figures are suspended mid-step (or mid-selfie) on the ocean floor, bathed in a cool, otherwordly light. As they age, the sculptures develop a certain surrealist quality; Taylor’s photographs of his installations months and years after they’ve been submerged capture faces and limbs transformed by coral in brilliant colors or rippling tufts of seaweed. Schools of fish can be seen flitting back and forth amidst the otherwise frozen tableau.
These changes are part of what’s so compelling about Taylor’s practice. Beyond its artistic merit, his work fosters new ecosystems in otherwise barren aquatic landscapes. The spectacle of these underwater sculpture parks diverts tourists from fragile natural environments; Cancún’s museum, for example, was conceived as a way to draw the 87,000 annual visitors away from the area’s endangered natural reefs.
Although Taylor began this work with some understanding of underwater flora and fauna—he was a diving instructor and naturalist for years before committing full-time to art—he’s learned much more since he sunk his first sculpture in 2006. All his creations are crafted from pH-neutral concrete to avoid altering the acidity of the water. He keeps surface texture in mind while creating each work—roughness caters to corals and sponges drifting through the water, while glassiness attracts worms and certain types of algae that sea urchins prefer. “And there’s a massive element of luck as well,” the artist tells me. “You can never quite predict how it’s going to change.”
The sea life that grows depends on location, as well. While beginning work in Lanzarote, “I didn’t think it would be as heavily populated as the Caribbean,” he notes. “I associated tropical waters with an abundance of life. I thought, ‘Colder seas, it’s going to be a little more subtle, the changes.’ In fact, it’s actually been more.”