Last week, the four horsemen of the apocalypse emerged from the watery depths of the River Thames in London — just a mile-or-so upstream from Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye.

And this could only mean one thing: Jason deCaires Taylor has returned home.

Famed for creating Eddie Vedder-adored subaquatic statuary that doubles as artificial reefs, Taylor, the world’s preeminent/only underwater sculptor-cum-marine conservationist, tends to work in balmy, scuba-friendly oceanic locales: The Bahamas, Grenada, Crete, the Canary Islands and Cancun. It's off the coast of Cancun that you'll find Museo Subacuático de Arte — the world’s first underwater museum and home to Taylor's staggering masterpiece, “The Silent Evolution.”

While the globetrotting British artist, a graduate of the London Institute of Arts, has previously created work in England (his “Ophelia”-inspired 2008 piece in Canterbury is among his most haunting), the Thames is uncharted territory for Taylor. And from the looks of it, he’s taken full advantage of his new tidal environs.

Serving as the sobering centerpiece of London’s Totally Thames celebration, a month-long fete that “brings the river to life via an exciting season of arts, cultural and river events,” Taylor’s “The Rising Tide” installation is composed of a quartet of ghostly riders that appear and disappear with the ebb and flow of Britain’s most iconic tideway.

Now you see them, now you don’t. (Totally Thames provides a tidal timetable detailing when you can fully seem them).

Eco-sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor "Rising Tides" installation on the River Thames, London. Photo: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Image

Eco-sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor "Rising Tides" installation on the River Thames, London.Photo: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

The quartet of sculptures, situated off of the Vauxhall foreshore adjacent to Albert Embankment, are described by Totally Thames as highlighting “the role of the Thames as the lifeblood of London, shaping the city’s great history as an ever evolving centre for culture, industry and commerce.”

But given this is a work by Taylor, an artist never short on thought-provoking commentary, “The Rising Tide” is also saddled with a loaded environmental message. As you can see, the heads of each of the life-size steeds have been replaced with an oil well pumpjack — also known as an oil horse or horsehead pump. These nightmarish, pump-headed stallions are one part “Beetlejuice,” one part “An Inconvenient Truth.”

As for the riders themselves, two of them are corpulent, middle-aged gents clad in business attire. They appear to be completely oblivious — blind even — to their surroundings. The other two riders are wide-eyed innocents: young children.

In short, “The Rising Tide” remarks on our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels and the havoc that this appetite has had on the natural world. These are indeed prophetic, modern-day horseman of the apocalypse, here to warn Londoners of the detrimental impact of climate change.

Taylor tells The Guardian: “Working in conservation, I am very concerned with all the associated effects of climate change and the state of peril our seas are in at the moment. So here I wanted a piece that was going to be revealed with the tide and worked with the natural environment of the Thames, but also alluded to the industrial nature of the city and its obsessive and damaging focus just on work and construction.”

He adds: “The suited figures are ambivalent to their situation — I wanted to create this striking image of a politician in front of the Houses of Parliament, ignoring the world as the water rises around him. And they are sitting on horses that are grazing, taking as much as they can from the ground.”

Eco-sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor "Rising Tides" installation on the River Thames, London.Photo: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

Eco-sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor's "Rising Tides" installation on the River Thames, London.Photo: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

It’s not all doom and gloom on the banks of the Thames, however. While the duo of middle-aged businessmen/politicians represent denial and environmental destruction, the two young riders march from the river as agents of positive change.

In addition to the its proximity to the Palace of Westminster, Taylor's installation is positioned within close distance to Nine Elms, a gritty south bank district on the south bank that’s been “regenerated” as a high-rent enclave dominated by glitzy residential towers designed by big-name architects. Nowhere else is London’s “obsessive and damaging focus on work and construction” more apparent in Nine Elms, where a harbinger of London’s affordable housing apocalypse recently appeared in the form of a high rise-spanning swimming pool in the sky.

“The Rising Tide” was sponsored in part by the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership.

Taylor’s sculptures will be on display through the entire September run of Totally Thames. Again, the times in which the horsemen are fully visible is dependent on the tide schedule. I think they're at their spookiest and most surrealistic when partially submerged by the river.

That being said, the public is restricted to a riverside walkway adjacent to the foreshore. Accessing the beach to getting up close and personal with the painstakingly detailed sculptures is prohibited due to the potential for slips and falls in the mud. There's also the risk of either being stranded or being plowed over by an amphibious sightseeing bus.

Eco-sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor "Rising Tides" installation on the River Thames, London.Photo: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images
Eco-sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor's "Rising Tides" installation on the River Thames, London.Photo: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images
Eco-sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor's "Rising Tides" installation on the River Thames, London.Photo: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

Via [The Guardian]


Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.