HOW DID IT ALL GET STARTED I studied sculpture in London, and after my degree I wasn’t sure what to do in the art world. I was diving from quite a young age, and started developing that.
I had been instructing in various places before I came to Grenada – I was thinking of buying a dive school here and we did a deal where I would work for three months before buying it.
In that time I decided that it wasn’t a particularly viable business, and when thinking about teaching diving for the next 10 years, I just couldn’t deal with it.
I came up with plan B, to build a sculpture park. Getting permission wasn’t too bad, because I went through the right channels and some people at the university put me in contact with the ministry. I paid for it all, so it wasn’t costing them anything.
The first sculpture was pretty quick, about two months in 2006. I began with Grace, cast flat and lying in the sand, and it developed from there. It’s all freediveable, only 4 or 5m deep.
The Lost Correspondent was one of my favourites. You don’t quite know how a piece is going to turn out, because you make it in the studio and you’re looking at it from a ground perspective. But when you put it in the sea you’re looking at it in a multi-dimensional perspective – you’re above it, you’re around the side of it, the scale changes. You’re never sure, and that piece just looked good and worked where it got placed in the gully.
Now I’m getting really good with the materials and the designs. It’s a tough environment working in the water, so different to working on land. When I started I made some pieces out of welded metal, and none of those survived.

What is the construction process
I deal mainly with life-casting, so I find models and then cover them in a dental plaster. From that mould I make a plaster cast, where I do alterations and more detailed features. Then I cast again in silicone and from that make all the cement casts. It’s quite a long process.
A lot of the detail is pointless; it’s really just for the photography, because those details get lost after two weeks under water.

Tell me about the Ring of Children
It’s become quite an iconic piece at the park. It’s the one that everyone sees the pictures of and I get hundreds of emails all the time about it. It has also worked really well with the species colonising it.
Sand was washing over the lying-down figures and stopping corals from getting established. I wanted a sculpture to stand up in the water.
I used to be very organised about regularly photographing the sculptures, but now I just have so many in so many different places that I can’t keep up with it any more. Some of the best records I have are of the Ring.
I did a whole week of photography earlier this year with tripods around the sculptures. I went back yesterday and it’s totally changed! There’s loads of new corals and different things.
One thing that is brilliant is that two faces are completely gold. Fire coral is an amazing species because it covers the sculpture in something like a thin blanket of paint, and you can still see the textures of the face. It stops anything else from growing, almost like anti-foul.
On one the whole nose has grown out with white fingers, all in the past three or four months. One had a fireworm on the side of it, zigzagging up and down leaving a white trail like a sort of Picasso painting. Some of them look pretty weird!
People ask why I don’t paint them with anti-fouling paint, so visitors can see their faces and the details. But that defeats the purpose. How they change and evolve is what makes them interesting.

And the new Ring
Big swells have damaged the original Ring. It has been repaired several times, and spokes added to help keep it together. I’ve learned a lot about materials since then.
The new Vicissitudes is built with special silica for the concrete with glass strands and Fibreglass reinforcing rods. I use some software that works out the stress from the sea.
Protected bays are obviously a massive bonus. Most energy is in the first 5m, so if you can get it deeper than that, it’s easier.
There are 28 children done in identical pairs of boy-girl, built in pairs on bases. We load them all onto a barge with a JCB on it that will lower them into the water.
We mark out where they’re going and use lifting-bags to adjust them. We use straps to get them really tight together. Each of the pieces is then bolted to each other so that it’s one big solid ring.
Anchoring is the final stage, just in case anything is slightly out. There are four points on each of the 14 sections. It’s really difficult, because the seabed is a mixture of sand and coral rocks.
Sand-screws won’t work, so we actually need to drive in galvanised metal rods. It takes about two days.
I had loads of people volunteer, but in the end it’s better to have three people who know what they’re doing than 20 people who don’t, especially once they get under water.
A commercial diving company has been helping. It’s one of those things you’ve really got to get the preparation right for.
These things always sound great on land, then as soon as you get under water there’s something floating or there’s a current that’s swishing you from side to side. Setting them up in the car park, a lot of the screws had concrete in, so when we put the bolts in it was fouling the thread.
I had to go to the hardware store three times for more. But when you’re out at sea and have a simple problem like that, it’s a major issue.
The only real drama came at the end when we couldn’t get the last piece installed, as the gap was two inches too small. After scratching our heads we came up with using a car-jack to prise open the gap to accommodate the last piece.
Fortunately it worked like a dream – and considering that our only other option was to move the rest of the circle, it was a big relief!

Can you make a living from this
There’s no middle ground. You’re either massively successful or you’re continuously struggling. I can go three years with lots of work and then have a break where I’ve got nothing for a year.
In the UK I did a project in Chepstow and a piece in a river in Kent. I also did a piece for (the magician) David Copperfield, who has his own island in the Bahamas. For the past few years I’ve been working on a project with 500 sculptures in Cancun, Mexico.
I’ve done quite a lot of travelling with this. There must be about 10 countries that I’m dealing with now that want similar things, and they’re all in various stages of planning and funding for it.
I thought I’d be working in the Maldives but I don’t think it’s going to happen now. It just popped through at the last moment, after six months of work on it. I thought it was pretty safe, and invested $50,000. There were going to be 1000 sculptures, so a few years’ work.

Are others trying to do similar things
Lots of others have started up. I get a lot of people wanting to do it, but I’m dubious – I don’t want to start a trend for people to just chuck stuff in the sea. It’s quite difficult to do it properly and you’ve got to do it properly or it damages what’s already down there.
Anything that’s not properly fixed to the floor is a loose object. There are things under the sea that are hundreds of tons that have moved because they are not fixed. The sea’s incredibly powerful.

What next
The project in Mexico is almost complete. The houses are made for species that live under water, so instead of just having sculptures I actually design them for the conservation side as well. They have holes for lobsters, areas where fish can “breathe” and textures are more friendly to coral.
I’ve been trying to get Google Earth to come along and do them. It’s a DPV thing with the camera on the front and they just drive it through the coral reefs. It wouldn’t be too difficult for them.
I’d like to do some more in Grenada, but I’d have to generate funding. Grenada is not a particularly rich island, and can’t afford that sort of thing.
I’m into diving and exploring, so in the same way I’m always exploring new ideas, trying new techniques, doing different things. I’m working with a new technology to make sculptures really large. Instead of making them all life-size, I’ll be scaling them up dramatically, so the next pieces will be 3 or 4m high.
What I really like is that by increasing the size a lot of the detailed features that currently get obscured by coral will still be visible.
I want to make it really interactive, so you’re not just looking at the object; you’re actually going into it. I’ve got some designs to work with wrecks, putting sculptures on the decks of wrecks or coming out of holes.
I was thinking of doing a Noah’s Ark, where the different species are coming out of the holes.

Jason de Caires Taylor, www.underwatersculpture.com
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