Naomi Groom, Curating MA student at the University of Kent reviews Jason deCaires Taylor’s fascinating underwater sculpture, Alluvia, which was installed in Canterbury in 2008.
Jason deCaires Taylor’s mysterious and rather elusive sculpture lies at the bottom of the river Stour running through the historic city of Canterbury in Kent. If you happen to be gazing over the wall by the West Gate Towers you may find yourself confronted by two ghostly figures in the water.
Twins, one of recycled glass and the other of cement, lie tranquilly on the riverbed, their arms stretched out above their heads, feet crossed. In sunlight they shimmer and in darkness they glow. Those who have seen Millais’ Ophelia cannot deny the immediate Pre-Raphaelite notion of attentive naturalism: nature is at one with the bodies of the sisters, and in turn, the sculpture has an intrinsic relationship with the flowing water and reeds. Initially the title appears to have mythological connotations – the name of the pagan goddess of rivers perhaps? It happens to have a far more earthly association. Alluvia is taken from the term alluvium: sediment deposit consisting of organic matter.
‘Organic’ would be a fitting term for this work of art. A key, and striking, feature of deCaires Taylor’s Alluvia is that it is constantly and irresistibly being modified and reformed by the changes in the river’s ecosystem. Algae and silt are not a threat to this underwater artwork; they actually enhance it aesthetically and conceptually. Alluvia is constantly drifting in and out of obscurity, changing shape and shade in apparent metamorphosis.
Each visit for the viewer produces a different experience, an intentional strategy by the artist. Alluvia is not simply situated in Canterbury, it may actually represent an ongoing dialogue between the environment and the city. In recent years traffic pollution in Canterbury has been a hot topic of discussion and the long-term effects of exposure have worried many residents. It seems fitting to have Alluvia visibly changing as it falls victim to this exposure, installed at the very time when the city is contending with these environmental challenges.
Jason deCaires Taylor is an internationally acclaimed eco-artist, with sculptures situated in Mexico and Grenada. His works should be visited and experienced first-hand, and since his immense marine sculptures can be submerged up to four metres deep, it is fortunate that we have Alluvia to provide this experience without the need for a mask and snorkel.
Main image: Detail, Alluvia, River Stour, Canterbury, (photo: ©www.jasondecairestaylor.com)