“I like sculptures to interact with nature, changing aspect thanks to the outdoors shadows in the day or moon light depending on the weather, the time of the day or the season. I like observing the evolution of corrosion of the medium. Underwater, all these characteristics are enhanced, the day light illuminates the sculptures being in the seascape, playing with the curves, continuously changing with the movement of the waves, the sea drawing its own story with moving circles of light on the surface of the artwork. The alteration of the medium will evolve faster and will naturally modify the scenery.” –Val
In 2015 we were approached by sculpturist Valorie Goutard and her husband Frederic Morel about the feasibility of putting a sculpture underwater. For nearly a decade we have been putting artificial reefs under the seas of Koh Tao, but most of those projects were conceived and carried out by scientists and avid conservationists. So, we were very excited to potentially be working on a project conceived and constructed by a professional artist, and sprung at the opportunity to make the project happen.
Most of our artificial reef projects are built thinking about the habitat they will provide to marine organisms, the growing area it provides to corals, the longevity, ease of deployment, and so on. This project however is different, as an art installation it is not so much about how it will benefit the marine ecosystem and local dive industry (which it does in many ways) but in what it will stir in the minds and hearts of those who visit it. [See also the underwater art installation ‘Despair’ by Spencer Arnold].
In the spring of 2015 both Val and Frederic came down to the island, and we did some dives to explore potential sites. Val was hoping for a site that was mostly sand, so that the structures would stand out and provide new habitat for coral organisms. For us, we wanted the site to be in a sandy area that is near the reef, somewhere where divers frequent but the reef is not in perfect condition. After heading to several sites we took Frederic and Val to see Tao Tong, and all agreed that it was perfect. Tao Tong sees many divers from October to January when winds make diving difficult around much of the rest of the island.
The deployment of these sculptures was a grand endeavor, all made possible thanks to the hard work of Val and Khun Daeng’s teams on the barge, while we managed the structures as they descended, finishing their assembly safely underwater over the coming weeks. Now Val’s vision of an Ocean Utopia has been realized and the impact of the sculptures is sublime. As the bronze statue and concrete surfaces are appreciated at one sculpture, the other two can be see looming in the distance as shadows, waiting to be explored. Leading out from the base of the red mooring line in Tao Tong, a series of 9 bottle nursery units was submerged to aid divers that are new to the site to find this exciting new instillation.
Ocean Utopia has already attracted a great deal of life, as an array of juvenile fish and invertebrates have sought shelter in the crevices of the sculptures. In time, the corals that we’ve planted on the sculptures’ surfaces will grow, making the lines between artificial and natural reef blur, drawing an even greater diversity of organisms to the area. At present, many of the coral fragments at this site have retained their zooxanthellae, relieved by the deeper, cooler water. Unfortunately, Tao Tong’s reef has not been spared from the heat, as fully bleached corals can be seen all the way out to the reef’s edge.
For over 60 years, SCUBA divers and marine scientists have been calling for better protection and conservation of coral reefs, but without strong public sentiment this protection has not been realized. In order to achieve more widespread awareness about the threats facing coral reefs it is important that new mediums of expression are used to convey the message. Unique underwater art projects such as this one by Val are an attractive and impactful mechanism to get more widespread awareness to the general public, which can reach a more broad audience than scientific publications or articles. Visually stunning installations such as these structures reach to the public’s emotions, and inspires them to contemplate about the relationships between humans and coral reefs in a way that graphs and even photographs can never achieve.
Also check out these links related to this project:
Bangkok Post article