What lies beneath the Reef: Australian art gallery makes a splash

By Helen Hayes

Jason deCaires Taylor, Townsville, underwater musuem, MOUA
Australia’s Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) has made a splash, literally, on the Great Barrier Reef off the shores of Townsville.

The Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) is the latest submerged gallery by the world’s first and leading underwater creater, Jason deCaires Taylor. It’s the first in the Southern Hemisphere, with stage one completed on 19 December, 2019. There are two completed installations at present, ‘Ocean Siren’ and The ‘Coral Greenhouse’. The latter is located at The John Brewer Reef in the heart of the Greater Barrier Reef Marine Park and shares a message of reef conservation and restoration. The Greenhouse is the first underwater building created by the artist, weighs more than 50 tonnes and is filled with 20 reef ‘guardians’ all modelled on real people. Divers can access the ‘Coral Greenhouse’ after it officially opened on 1 April, 2020.

No diving is required to see ‘Ocean Siren’, which is located in Townsville right by the Strand Jetty. ‘Ocean Siren’ changes colour, reacting to live water temperature data from the weather station at Davies Reef. The ‘muse’ is modelled on local Wulgurukaba Traditional Owner Takoda Johnson.

MiNDFOOD caught up with Jason deCaires Taylor to find out more.

When you did your first underwater sculpture garden in Grenada, did you envisage that you would go on to create others around the world?

No when I first started I just had the intention to take a creative year out. To realise a project I had at the back of my mind for some time. I never predicted it would become a full time career, but am obviously very pleased it did.

Were you a diver first or a sculptor?

I was a sculptor first and studied at the London Institute of Arts. It was later when I travelled to Australia in 2001 that I became a dive professional.

Underwater museum, Great Barrier Reef, MOUA, Jason deCaires Taylor
The Coral Greenhouse is part of MOUA by Jason deCaires Taylor

Who are your heroes in art and conservation?

Probably too many to mention, certainly in the Arts, I have been influenced by great artists such as Anish Kapoor,  Tara Donovan, Christo, Richard Long, Roxy Paine and of course there are many marine biologists and explorers who have had a significant impact on me such as Jacque Cousteau, Tony Fontes, Silvia Earle and Callum Roberts.

All the pieces in your underwater museums tell a story. What is the story behind MOUA?

MOUA is also the first major underwater sculpture project in the Southern Hemisphere and world-famous Great Barrier Reef. The non-profit museum seeks to encourage environmental awareness, increase knowledge of marine ecosystems and help instigate social change whilst leading visitors to appreciate the breathtaking natural beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. Through interpretation centres, trained guides and creative concepts of both the artworks and the experience, the sculptures will convey vital messages about the threats to oceanic marine systems and our deep-rooted dependency on the sea.

Jason deCaires Taylor, MOUA, Underwater museum, Townsville
A ‘reef guardian’ in the Coral Greenhouse, part of MOUA on John Brewer Reef, off Townsville. Image by Jason deCaires Taylor

You are passionate about conservation and the environment. How do the underwater museums help raise awareness?

To be honest I don’t think being passionate about the environment is the right way to describe it. Our living planet iswhat provides us with life, our existence. If we continue to treat conservation as an optional approach we have no future. I hope my underwater museums help to illustrate that our underwater world is an integral, fragile part of our world and not an endless resource. To help to tell these stories and to bring the underwater world into the living rooms of popular culture.

How did you select Townsville as your next location?

Since training as I dive instructor in Australia I have always been fascinated with returning to the Great Barrier Reef. The Townsville region has such a great range of locations that it is the ideal place to explore a range of concepts that work both underwater and in intertidal zones. Its strong relationship with the marine science and indigenous communities also make it the ideal hub to connect science, tourism, culture and art.

One of the most interesting pieces in MOUA is ‘Ocean Siren’. What makes it so special?

‘Ocean Siren’ is the first time that I have represented scientific data in such a strong emotive and visual way on the surface of a sculpture. The fact that the data is from a live feed on The Great Barrier Reef also creates the feeling that viewers are witnessing a moment in history or a connection to a distant place.

Jason deCaires Taylor, Townsville, underwater musuem, MOUA
‘Ocean Siren’ changes colour with the temperature of the reef. It is part of MOUA, off Townsville, the latest underwater museum by Jason deCaires Taylor

What are you most proud of in all your installations?

I am always most fascinated and engaged by my most recent pieces, it can be very hard to predict how they will start to evolve or interact with their environment and this process can be really exciting to witness.

What is next for you?

We are looking at the next stages of MOUA and currently working on community consultation for further installations of artworks on Palm Island and Magnetic Island.

Jason deCaires Taylor, Townsville, Great Barrier Reef, MOUA
The Coral Greenhouse weighed 58 tonnes, and was carefully placed off John Brewer Reef, off Townsville. It is part of MOUA, the latest underwater museum by Jason deCaires Taylor. Image by Richard Woodget

Read about one of Jason’s sub-aquatic museums, HERE.



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