Resource-Producing Art

An article today in the Huffington Post provides a stunning example of artworks that produce resources instead of consuming them. In this instance, the artist is Jason deCaires Taylor. The resources he is augmenting are located in the ocean depths. That is where he installs masses of human forms that he carves and then submerges for the purpose of providing an inviting habitat where aquatic life can find protection and reproduce. Thus, the active components of his artistic process occur in two complementary phases. One begins and ends whtin his studio where he fabricates the thirty or forty figures that comprise each work of art. The other begins, but never ends. It occurs when fish and algae and seaweed and crustaceans begin to occupy the surfaces of the sculptures. If the work is successful, the artist's contribution will be completely obliterated.

A few months ago, Jason asked me to write an essay about an art installation with a stridently political message. Here is an excerpt from it:


Taylor---Rising-TideBy capitalizing on the uncanny resemblance between a horse head and a crude oil extraction pump, The Rising Tide by Jason deCaires Taylor evokes two mythic symbols of human might. Both horses and pumps have long, pendulum like necks that culminate in an ovoid head. This visual correspondence generated such slang terms as ‘nodding donkey’, ’oil horse’, and ‘pumpjack.’ as they are sometimes known. It is augmented by a material convergence between ‘horsepower’ (mechanics) and ‘firepower’ (crude oil), conveying the ironic truth that a physical structure that evolved for quiet grazing on pristine planes has been engineered for the noisy lifting of submerged dirty oil. Their concordance is reinforced because they are also neighbors. Crude oil pumps have infiltrated the planes where horses graze. Taylor augments these correspondences by positioning all four horses that comprise this imposing life-sized sculpture so that they stand rooted in place, assuming the posture of crude oil pumps. The only implied movement is the parallel up-and-down motion of muscles and pistons.


The Rising Tide expands its significance by juxtaposing human powers with overarching forces that humans cannot dictate. Twice-daily, the river’s tides submerge and then reveal these sculptures. In this manner, these embodiments of human power are overwhelmed by the rhythmic crescendos of normal tidal fluctuations, but also by the threat of abnormal rising sea levels and threats of flooding.

Social forces are equally prominent. The four Shire horse-and-rider sculptures are situated at the epicenter of power wielded by politicians, financiers, and industrialists. Their location on the banks of the River Thames is directly opposite the Tate Britain. Lavish living quarters of multi-millionaires line the surrounding streets. Shell Oil headquarters are in close proximity. Most significantly, the Houses of Parliament are close enough to allow elected officials a full view of the consequences of ignoring impending climate change.