British artist unveils statue on the seafloor off the coast of Cannes, France

A British artist has sculpted these incredible Easter Island-like statues that have been sunk off the coast of Cannes in France to create an underwater eco-museum.

Jason deCaires Taylor said that the installation featuring giant statues of faces is now open to the public and all that is required to see them are some fins and a snorkel.

The artist has worked all over the world but he said that this is the first project has done in the Mediterranean. He said that the project has been in the works since 2016, ever since he was invited to Cannes, because the mayor was very interested in the city and the surrounding sites receiving UNESCO world heritage status, and with that in mind, he wanted to have more cultural attractions and to diversify.

DeCaires Taylor had spent the last couple of years surveying sites and applying for the right environmental permits, before making the sculptures, which are designed to ‘get people to look underwater, to realise there is an incredibly fragile habitat. People tend to think that underwater, delicate systems are all about coral reefs, whereas in France, they have these amazing posidonia meadows, seagrass meadows underwater, that are really important habitat sites, which are home to so many different types of marine life.’

Posidonia oceanic, which is also known as Mediterranean tapeweed or Neptune grass, is a seagrass that is endemic to the Mediterranean. It is an extremely important part of the ecosystem and serves as a habitat for numerous species.

He added: ‘They are currently in danger because so many people are throwing their anchors on them.

‘The idea is to create more awareness about what the ecosystem is like in the Mediterranean and to encourage people from all walks of life… The sculptures are extremely shallow. They are 30 metres from the beach and are only between 1 to 4 metres deep.’

Some of the sculptures being 2.4 metres high, he said that people can almost touch them from the surface.

DeCaires Taylor says he has been a diver all his life and that he used to teach scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

He said: ‘You can’t overstate the devastation that has happened to marine ecosystems across the world and coral reefs tend to be the canaries in the coal mine and the ones that garner the most media attention but some of the other ecosystems in temperate waters are equally damaged and equally at risk. In the Mediterranean, for example, there is some of the biggest overfishing in the world.’

He added: ‘One of the sculptures that I did in France was of one of the local fishermen and he said that in the last 20 years is catch is down to 10 percent of what used to be and he’s visibly noticed how much water temperature has changed.’

Speaking about how he approached the project, he said: ‘I did an open casting and moulded some cast around 60 people there and then from those 60 people I went back to the studio in England and worked on them to find out which faces work well in this mask structure. It’s quite a difficult structure to do underwater because there is quite a lot of wave energy. You work in shallow water so it was all about finding a face that would be resilient and work in the form that I wanted.’

DeCaires Taylor, whose studio is in Kent, in England, said that he did all the casting in France and then brought them back to the UK to make the large pieces there before shipping them over.

He said that with each project he tries to make his art ‘as regionally relevant as possible’.

He said: ‘Those portraits are all of six local people from Cannes and that was a very important part of the project. We wanted a range of different age groups and different genders and backgrounds.’

They are also based on masks, which is a nod to the Cannes film Festival and to the arts, adding: ‘The statues are going to be submerged off the island of St Marguerite, which is where the Man with the Iron Mask was incarcerated.’

All the statues are ‘made from a high-grade marine cement which has a neutral pH that serves to attract marine wildlife. They have a natural foundation and so they sort of blend into the seabed. There designed to be permanent structures and not degrade, and having built to resist big storms, and surges, and tough sea conditions.’

He said: ‘My objective is to change our narrative towards our oceans and change our relationship was and I find that sculpture is a very good tour that forming a new identity a new relationship with the underwater world and I think there is a side benefit that they actually create habitat spaces good thing as well.’

Particularly with those Cannes sculptures, they are a singular face that is split into two. The external part is a mask on one side, and then there is the person behind the mask on the other.

He said the pieces were about trying to reference the sea and the way that when we look at the ocean. He said: ‘Visually, we always think about it as being this vast, huge space that is untouchable, that we cannot damage it in any way. I want us to think that actually the sea is what is beneath the surface. Beneath the surface, it’s incredibly fragile and incredibly at risk and so that’s kind of what those pieces embody.’

Speaking about how he became an artist, he said: ‘I went to art college in London and studied for years and then afterwards I became concerned about trying to make a living from it and I didn’t want commercial factors to influence how the artwork looked. “I thought I would go into other professions, so I retrained as a scuba diving instructor. I retrained as a photographer and I retrained as a set designer. I sort of did all of those different things for the preceding 10 years and then I realised that it was the sculpture that was the most interesting to me.”

He added: ‘There is something that didn’t sit right about doing a temporary exhibitions, with openings, displays, and then dismantling it and storing it.’

He said that diving made him realise just how much space there was underwater and that ‘it had this added secondary benefit of creating a home for wildlife and it would be a continuously evolving artwork. It would never be the same. It will always be different on every visit and so that’s what first engaged me and why I’ve been doing it ever since’.