The Underwater Museum of Cannes is Jason deCaires Taylor’s first installation in the Mediterranean Sea and took over four years to develop. It features a series of six monumental, three-dimensional portraits, each over two metres in height and ten tons in weight. The sculptures are sited near the island of Sainte-Marguerite, one of the Lérins Islands, just off the coast of Cannes, France.
Placed at a depth of between three and four metres, these artworks rest on areas of white sand in-between oscillating posidonia sea grass meadows in the protected southern part of the island. The shallow depth and close proximity to shore make the site easily accessible and the crystal-clear waters provide ideal snorkelling conditions.
The six works are based on portraits of local members of the community, covering a range of ages and professions. For example, one sculpture is of Maurice, an 80 year old local fisherman, and another sculpture is of Anouk, a 9 year old primary school pupil.
Each face is significantly upscaled and sectioned into two parts. The outer part resembles a mask as the theme of masks connects to Île Sainte-Marguerite’s history. It is well known for being the location where the Man with the Iron Maskwas imprisoned. Another connection is to the performing arts that Cannes is famous for as well as the annual film festival hosted there.
The split mask design concept is a metaphor for the ocean. One side of the mask depicts strength and resilience, the other fragility and decay. From land, we see the surface, calm and serene, or powerful and majestic. This is the view of the mask of the sea. However, below the surface is a fragile, finely-balanced ecosystem, which has been continuously degraded and polluted over the years by human activity.
The location of the sculptures was previously an area of disused marine infrastructure. Part of the project was a significant site clearing where marine debris such as old engines and pipelines were removed to create a space for the installation of artworks. The site has now been cordoned off from boats, making it safe for snorkelers and divers, while aiding in the prevention of further damage caused by anchors to the seagrass meadows. Posidonia grass is a vital habitat area and is sometimes referred to as the lungs of the ocean for the vast amount of oxygen it creates. With all his projects, Taylor aims to draw attention to the sea as a fragile biosphere in urgent need of protection. The sculptures were created using pH neutral materials to attract marine fauna and flora to help this area rejuvenate and flourish.
Commissioned by: Mayor David Lisnard and the Mairie de Cannes
Materials: 316 Stainless steel and pH neutral cement