Cannes' underwater eco-museum

Submersion of sculptures by artist Jason deCaires Taylor:
Cannes' underwater eco-museum drops anchor just off the island of Sainte-Marguerite

The big day has arrived! On Thursday 28 January 2021, the sculptures of the Cannes underwater eco-museum, created by the famous British international artist Jason deCaires Taylor, a great fan of the city, took their place a few dozen metres from the shore of the island of Sainte-Marguerite. The six Cannes residents who let the artist use their features were present for the submersion taking place today in Cannes, at the initiative of its mayor David Lisnard, the first underwater eco-museum in France and the Mediterranean by this renowned sculptor.

Made from an ecological material, the statues will encourage the return of underwater flora and fauna that will gradually repopulate the area around the works, set aside for safe swimming and now greatly enlarged.

Guardians of the sanctuary, the statues will provide shelter for marine animals and plants © J. deCaires Taylor

"What a joy it is to see the culmination of this magnificent project! Mixing beauty and learning, the Cannes underwater eco-museum symbolises my attachment to two fundamental values: cultural necessity and the preservation of the environment. The work of Jason deCaires Taylor is strong, artistic and ecological, submerged in a precious environment, where the seabed has been restored and is now protected. In 2015, I was struck by the images of his work in Mexico. They were powerful and dreamlike, with a true ecological dimension. The installation of these sculptures in Cannes now creates an enlarged, safe swimming area, a wonderful setting to discover its underwater life. The water is clear, the seabed sandy, and the statues can now play their role as home to fauna and flora. We have banned the mooring of boats here. It will be a place reserved for swimming, for bathers coming from the shore just a hundred metres away. The treatment of the faces proposed by the artist, both poetic and serious, is an ode to the splendour of marine biodiversity and our duty to protect it.”
David Lisnard, Mayor of Cannes

Enthused by David Lisnard’s idea, who had suggested the sculptor make his first underwater eco-museum in France and the Mediterranean in Cannes, Jason deCaires Taylor, whose societal, environmental approach has travelled all around the world, created a brand-new work for the city, inspired by the theme of the mask.

Standing two metres tall and weighing about ten tons each, the six statues that make up the museum were made from ecological marine material of neutral pH providing a refuge for underwater life. Submerged at a distance of 84 to 132 metres from the shore at a depth of 3 to 5 metres, the sculptures are accessible to most divers equipped with a simple mask and snorkel. The theme, chosen jointly by the Mayor of Cannes and the artist, evokes the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask, who was imprisoned for eleven years on the island, and also pays tribute to the “7th art” (cinema), for which Cannes is a major venue.

The six faces were taken out by barge and then submerged near the southern shore of Sainte-Marguerite, in an area reserved for bathers that has been enlarged specifically for them.

Exclusive to the artist in France and the Mediterranean, this work, accessible to all, came about thanks to David Lisnard's tenacity in the face of the long administrative authorisation procedures necessary to bring this municipal project that’s unique within France to fruition.

Jason deCaires Taylor's first work in the Mediterranean is in Cannes, south of the island of Sainte-Marguerite

Jason deCaires Taylor is a British artist world-renowned for the quality of his work and his active commitment to the protection of underwater environments. He has populated the waters of Lanzarote, the Thames, the Bahamas, Cancun, Oslo and Granada with his disturbing silhouettes (the last-mentioned work has been designated by National Geographic magazine as one of the 25 wonders of the world), and it was in Cannes that Jason deCaires Taylor chose to install his new creations. The city of festivals is now the only city in France and the Mediterranean to offer such an underwater art and ecological museum.
Evolutionary in nature, his ecological, poetic works provide reefs that serve as a refuge for underwater life and raise awareness of the need to preserve marine biodiversity among the general population.

Extending the protected area where mooring is not allowed on a site carefully chosen to restore underwater biodiversity

The choice for the location of the six sculptures was directed towards a highly degraded site, impacted by human activity, easily accessible and not requiring diving equipment, as a simple mask and snorkel are all you need. Access is free and safe thanks to a ban on anchoring boats there. The swimming area (no mooring allowed) within which the sculptures are installed has been quadrupled in size and extended to 29,000 m2, which adds value in terms of landscape and environmental matters for this site classified Natura 2000.
The submerged ecological museum is in harmony with fishing and diving activities, and provides suitable habitats for the animal and plant species behind the classification of the site. The project’s creation also undergoes regular ecological monitoring of the underwater ecosystem of the Lérins Islands archipelago. It provides a special place to observe the evolving marine biodiversity, which is in line with the City Council's desire to protect this natural space, which was completely cleaned up in October 2019, in partnership with ENEDIS.

Masks: a theme unique to Cannes

The theme of masks, chosen in collaboration with the City of Cannes, is an echo of the city’s history and cultural heritage, referring to the "Man in the Iron Mask", the famous prisoner locked in the state prison on the island of Sainte-Marguerite from 1687 to 1698. An iconic figure in local history, the Iron Mask is also an internationally recognised symbol, invoked since the 18th century to denounce the arbitrariness of absolute power. In addition, this theme resonates with the 7th Art, of which Cannes is the world capital with the Cannes Film Festival, inseparable from the history of the city, and the project to create the "Cannes on air" creative economic sector.
The sculptures will evolve over time, becoming covered with algae, shells and corals, thus forming an integral part of the local marine ecosystem as their rough texture and nooks and crannies allow marine flora and fauna to take refuge and thrive there.

A completely new work, created exclusively for the city, with the participation of the people of Cannes

From 2 to 4 July 2018, during a retrospective summer exhibition of the works of Jason deCaires Taylor at the Museum of the Sea, the international artist set up a temporary workshop at the Fort of Sainte Marguerite Island. For three days, the artist and his two assistants made 45 casts of the faces of volunteers from Cannes.
From them, the artist selected six models representing the diversity of Cannes’ population, and here are their names and ages at the time of casting:
-    Maurice MERENDA, 78, fisherman/skipper;
-    Eugène KUSTOV, 30, self-employed;
-    Anouk VANGHENT, 7, Year 2 schoolgirl at the time;
-    Nour BRADAI, 20, student;
-    Marion BEAUDIN, 29, cultural mediator;
-    Dominique ROYAL, 54, employee.

Arts and cultural education (ACE) activities supported the creation of the Jason deCaires Taylor underwater museum

In Cannes, a city that’s 100% ACE thanks to the efforts of David Lisnard, the municipal directorate of culture has seized the opportunity offered by the creation of the underwater eco-museum to put forward cross-cutting cultural mediation activities. As a result, a 3rd-year class from the Stanislas Institute in Cannes followed the artist throughout the project and the students were able to conduct an interview with Jason deCaires Taylor on the work site at Port Canto in October 2020. In this way, the children came to understand the artist's creative approach, the choice of theme and, more broadly, the environmental issues raised by his work.

 

Interview of Jason deCaires Taylor in english

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