(Cat Vinton)
(Jason deCaires Taylor)
(Cat Vinton)
(Jason deCaires Taylor)

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Step Inside the World’s First Intertidal Art Gallery

Called the “Coralarium,” the artwork in the Maldives contains almost 30 coral-covered sculptures that will change with the tides

smithsonian.com

British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor has made a name for himself with art that primarily caters to the scuba diving and snorkeling set. In 2006, he created the world’s first underwater sculpture park off the coast of Grenada. In 2009, he co-founded the Museo Subacuático de Arte off Mexico’s Yucatan, which houses some 500 submerged statues. In 2016, he launched Europe’s first underwater sculpture garden in Lanzarote.

In comparison, his latest project in the Maldives is a somewhat more accessible experience: As Jessica Stewart at MyModernMet reports, it's the world’s first intertidal art gallery.

The piece is called “Coralarium,” and it's located at the luxury hotel the Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi. To get to the art, visitors can follow a long pool that leads to the sea; there underwater poplars and living staghorn coral mark a path toward a staircase where the partially submerged, stainless-steel cube rests. Inside the porous enclosure are nearly 30 pH-neutral concrete statues—many of which are casts of local Maldivians—which are checkered with white fragments of dead coral to promote the colonization of future coral polyps. The area is also seeded with coral to encourage growth.

In a brief documentary, Taylor says that the sculptures interact with nature on three different levels. There are sculptures on top of the cube that are set against the sky; sculptures in the tidal area that exist both above and below the water; and sculptures that are completely submerged, which will eventually be covered in coral. The interaction of light on the water and the steel, not to mention the constant evolution of the sculptures themselves means that every visit to the gallery catch the art in a different state. “It’s about taking all the elements of our planet and showing that everything is connected,” he says. “We’re all interdependent and that’s a fundamental aspect of the installation.”

The cube also flips the script when it comes to human–wildlife interaction. “It's almost like an inverse zoo,” says Taylor. “In cities, we go into space and look at caged animals. Whereas this is almost like we’re the tourists, but we’re in the cage and the marine life can come and go and look at us.”

According to a press release, visitors to the resort on Shaviyani Atoll can tour the “Coralarium” with a guide who will explain the sculptures and the marine wildlife colonizing the exhibit.

The artwork is also a way for visitors to the Maldives, a remote island chain in the Indian Ocean, to begin engaging with the local ecosystem and learn about threats facing coral reefs and other ocean habitats.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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