Europe’s first underwater art museum has opened to the public. Museo Atlántico, the brainchild of British eco-sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, is located off the coast of Lanzarote. As it is 14 metres under the surface of the water, the museum is accessible only to scuba divers and snorkelers. This monumental project has taken two years to complete and aims to create a strong visual dialogue between art and nature.
Taylor told IBTimesUK he cast many of the human sculptures from real people. They are grouped in several installations that draw attention to issues such as climate change, conservation and migration. The largest installation – entitled Crossing the Rubicon – comprises a group of 40 people walking towards a gateway in a 30-metre long barrier. The figures aren’t paying attention to where they are going − some have their eyes closed, some are taking selfies, others are engrossed in their phones. Taylor says this work is about climate change and how mankind seems to be heading blindly towards a point of no return.
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Another piece, The Raft Of Lampedusa, depicts African men and women in a sunken dinghy on the seabed. The title of the piece is a reference to The Raft Of Medusa, a Théodore Géricault painting of people clinging to a makeshift raft after a French frigate ran aground off the coast of Mauritania in 1816. There were not enough lifeboats for everybody on board, so the captain and other dignitaries sailed off in them, leaving 147 people to board an unstable raft. Conditions on the raft were horrific. Many people were washed out to sea, others were killed in bloody fights and some survivors engaged in cannibalism. When the raft was finally rescued after 13 days at sea, only 15 men were still alive. The case became an international scandal, with the deaths being blamed on an incompetent captain who had abandoned his responsibility. Taylor says his Raft Of Lampedusa points to European governments’ unwillingness to accept responsibility for the migrant and refugee crisis. The Canary Islands are the first port of call for thousands of people from west Africa trying to reach Europe. Some of the figures in Taylor’s underwater dinghy were cast from people who had made this perilous journey.
The final exhibit in Museo Atlantico is the Human Gyre, with over 200 life-size figurative works creating a vast circular formation or ‘gyre’. Consisting of various models of all ages and from all walks of life, the positioning of the figures constructs a complex reef formation for marine species to inhabit and is a poignant statement for visitors to take with them at the end of the tour. The artist says he hopes a visit to Museo Atlantico may lead to a closer understanding of our relationship with the natural marine environment and appreciate the need to value and protect this fragile ecosystem in order to save ourselves.