Each year, divers pull Greco-Roman bronze artifacts—arms, helmets, an effigy of an ancient god—from the Mediterranean, a seemingly ceaseless source of ancient relics. But these same waters are increasingly unable to sustain coral eco-systems. Emily Young—“Britain’s greatest living stone sculptor”—intends to change that with her latest project, an artistic revitalization of the sea.
Young, who has relocated to Tuscany, carves marble heads—worth nearly $600,000 each on the commercial-art market—to drop them in the waters surrounding the coast, where the stone sculptures then catch nets cast by illegal fishers.
“It’s heartbreaking to see how barren the sea floor has become,” the artist has said. “But with our sculptures the boats’ nets get snagged and can’t be used.”
Paolo Fanciulli, a local fisherman, has lured several artists to Tuscany to stop overfishing. Fanciulli started depositing concrete blocks into the sea in 2006. But he invited artists to take over his sea-saving mission after receiving a gift of 300 chunks of marble from the proprietor of a local quarry.
The marble comes from Carrara and carries with it an artistic legacy—Michelangelo drew from the same quarry. But Young reaches toward ancient times for inspiration. Her colossal pieces—anchored by aquiline noses—have the look of a slightly sea-faded Greco-Roman bust.
Young has said that she hopes her work will one day be discovered by future art historians, the sculptures acting as “a voice from now to the future.” But this possibility depends in part on the planet’s eventual health, which is increasingly threatened by climate change and overfishing.
The project in Tuscany, however, has already helped reverse the effects of overfishing. Dolphins and lobsters have returned; starfish, crabs, and coral decorate Young’s first submerged sculpture. Soon, it will be covered in sea life. One day it may be dredged up, an artifact of an ocean on the brink of collapse.