The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16 Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 2016 Christo

The aerial view provided by the belvedere from the hill over Lake Iseo transforms the installation The Floating Piers in that typical final brushstroke that prints the genius of an artist on a painting. The artist in question is Christo, an American born in Bulgaria, where he fled the communist regime in 1958. Now 81 years old, he became known in the 1970s for monumental fabric installations, which he created in partnership with his wife, Jeanne- Claude (died 2009), although she only began to be credited as an author in 1994. Omitting the partnership was a joint decision by the couple to avoid prejudice against female artists in the art world. Together they covered, for example, the Reichstag, the German parliament, in Berlin in 1995, as well as the Neuf Bridge in Paris ten years earlier and the coast of Little Bay, outside Sydney, in 1969.

A diver connects an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) cable, covered with a protective layer of polyester with a breaking load of 20 tons, to one of the anchors on the lake bed to hold the pier in place 2016

The Floating Piers created a bridge between Lake Iseo – located in northern Italy, at the foot of the Alps – and the world. Three kilometers long on one side and one and a half kilometers on the other, the giant walkway connected the villages of Sulzano, on the mainland, to Montisola, on the island ahead, uniting in less than two years what nature took millennia to break apart. On display for just two weeks, the work turned the place into a travel destination for almost a million people from all over the world, making Iseu, at least temporarily, the world capital of land art ou environmental art. Christo states that his “work is made up of many different elements. My art involves architecture, landscaping, urbanism, painting and sculpture”.

The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16
Photo: Wolfgang Volz
© 2016 Christ

The biblical name of the artist, born Christo Javacheff, refers to the obvious metaphor of the mythological episode of the gospel (in which Christ, the son of God, walks on water), evoking archetypes and attracting an audience far from contemporary art, but close to faith. religious. In addition to these representations, the floating bridge works as a walkway that leads the audience to a real experience with the elements of nature – birds, men and fish share the same environment. Without handrails or balustrades, the hiker can balance himself, feel the waves under his bare feet, preferably – with safety guaranteed at a distance by 25 boats, with divers ready for any emergency. “This work has an open dimension. The visitor has to walk two kilometers. It's a physical, real project. It's not a virtual reality. No winds or waves or virtual photographs, everything about him is real. On the catwalk, pleasure is real, fear is real”, says Christo.

The Floating Piers, (design for Lake Iseo, Italy)
Drawing 2016 in two parts
15 x 96" and 42 x 96" (38 x 244 cm and 106,6 x 244 cm)
Pencil, charcoal, pastel, crayon, enamel paint, photographs by Wolfgang Volz, hand-drawn map and fabric sample
Photo: André Grossmann

But more than the physical connection, the artist created a floating bridge between the past and the present, between the before and the after, as the work must continue connecting generations from the memory of those who saw it and lived it personally, for the 16 days. of its existence. The installation is not forever, but its dematerialized, visual and artistic legacy is. With an almost divine and dreamlike hue, the work touches the collective unconscious of peoples.

The reality of work production: Bureaucracy and financing

The Floating Piers it is the end result of two projects that have been shipwrecked in public bureaucracy over more than four decades. In 1970, Christo and Jeanne-Claude tried unsuccessfully to carry out 2000 Meters Wrapped Inflated Pier, on the Rio de la Plata, in Buenos Aires. The project was rethought as The Odaiba Project, to Odaiba Park in Tokyo Bay 26 years later, and again failed to get permission. Christo reveals that in almost 50 years of work, bureaucracy has been the biggest challenge: “Of the 37 projects for which we asked for permission, we have only 22 projects carried out. THE The Floating Piers it's project number 37 and we had lost interest because we thought we wouldn't be able to do it. “But, as Jeanne-Claude used to say, some projects stay in the heart and in the mind and are always there”, says the artist. The death of the partner, in 2009, did not cancel the dream of the couple.

The ephemeral work would materialize on June 18, 2016, with the opening to the public, and would last until July 3, at midnight. From then on, the dismantling of the entire structure would begin, made up of underwater chains and foundations, 220 polyethylene cubes and 70 square meters of furtacor yellow fabric. Everything will be dismantled and recycled. The two years of work, an army of more than 500 people and tests on lakes in Germany and the Black Sea, with thousands of hours and calculations by engineers involved in carrying out the project, will become memory. After that, it will be possible to check the exhibition Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Water Projects on display at the Santa Giulia Museum in Brescia until September 18, 2016. There are samples of materials used in Lake Iseo, and 150 paintings, photographs, models and videos of works carried out on different continents and oceans, seas and lakes can be admired, as previews of this masterpiece called The Floating Piers.

Large-scale works also have a high cost and Christo gained notoriety for the alternative form of financing he developed. The total cost of the projects – 15 million euros in the case of The Floating Piers  – is being amortized from the sales of paintings that portray the vision of the work. The limited and exclusive preparatory drawings, which precede the execution of the work itself, are given as a guarantee to the financiers. This innovative capitalist system in the field of art is recognized as a case study by Harvard University, in the United States. After the completion of the work, Christo does not portray it again. In this way, the artist creates a virtuous circle, in which everyone wins: investors, who profit from the appreciation of the paintings; the cities, with the visit of thousands of tourists; the public, with the emotion it experiences; and the artist, with the realization of the project.

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