Set In Stone But Ever-Changing: Sculptures Reshaped By The Tides It's tough to see Jason deCaires Taylor's sculptures firsthand — unless you have scuba gear. Most of them rest under the sea. His latest work is fully visible only when the tide of the Thames recedes.
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Set In Stone But Ever-Changing: Sculptures Reshaped By The Tides

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Set In Stone But Ever-Changing: Sculptures Reshaped By The Tides

Set In Stone But Ever-Changing: Sculptures Reshaped By The Tides

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You will probably never see most of the public art projects of Jason deCaires Taylor, at least not without a mask and fins. Most of his sculptures stand on the bottom of the sea. His life-size statues, ghostly figures of men, women and children, seem to walk the ocean floor. They also hold hands. One watches TV. Mr. Taylor's latest art installation is "The Rising Tide." These are four horseback riders in the River Thames in London. But you can only see them twice a day, at low tide, when the water recedes. Jason deCaires Taylor joins us now from the Canary Islands, where he is a sculptor. Thanks very much for being with us.

JASON DECAIRES TAYLOR: Thanks very much for inviting me along.

SIMON: Could you tell us about these horses and their riders?

TAYLOR: Absolutely. These four horses, they're all based on the foreshore of the River Thames, just next to Vauxhall Bridge in central London. And it depicts four large-scale horses, based on the London working horse or the Shire horse. And each one of them has a rider on top and also is a kind of hybrid structure. So it's half horse and half oil pump. And they're also in a very tidal zone, so depending on what time of day you visit them, sometimes they're almost concealed and sometimes they're, you know, completely revealed by the water.

SIMON: How do you cast sculptures in what amounts to an underwater gallery, not just this installation in the Thames, obviously, but some that you've done all over the world?

TAYLOR: It's very different, obviously, from normal public sculpture. I have to use materials which obviously don't pollute in any way, that are friendly to the marine life. They're also durable. The idea, especially with a lot of the tropical pieces that make artificial reefs, is that they're going to be around for a very long time. Obviously corals, you know, can - hard corals can take ages to really get established.

SIMON: Do the elements always behave as you would like them to? Is that a real challenge?

TAYLOR: It works in both ways. I mean, obviously they're all designed to change and evolve in the ecosystem where they're placed. And sometimes that provides spectacular results. You know, we get sort of pink and purple corals and sponges and all these amazing things growing on them and morphing them. And that only adds to them. They really sort of then become alive. But also you're in this really kind of difficult environment. You're in the sea. So in tropical areas, you get big hurricanes, you get the surges of waves. And so with that in mind, you know, I really have to sort of program them then so they're fixed. And that can be a challenge.

SIMON: I wonder, is part of the appeal you want to make to people with these installations, you have to work a little to see them?

TAYLOR: Yes, I think so. I think you have to make a conscious effort, obviously, to go there. And to most people, the sea is this sort of hidden, concealed world that, you know, when they look at, they just see a blue horizon. Whereas, you know, it's actually a spectacular place underwater. It's this marvelous world that we have on our doorsteps. And I kind of want that - my work to be a kind of portal or an entrance for people to get to know more about the sea. And obviously it's in peril from many different threats at the moment, and I really want to draw attention to that.

SIMON: Ever run into a giant tuna at the market who says, I like your work?

TAYLOR: (Laughter) I've run into a few species underwater. I've had an octopus curling their arms around the side of the figures. I've had a turtle sleeping in between people's legs underwater, but no, not so much on land.

SIMON: Jason deCaires Taylor, a sculptor who is based in the Canary Islands of Spain. You can see photographs of his work by going to our website, npr.org. Mr. Taylor, thanks so much for being with us.

TAYLOR: Thank you very much, again, for having me on your show.

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