It used to be the measure of the messianic qualities of a man, but thanks to the appropriately named Bulgarian artist Christo, recently mere mortals, for a time, could walk on water too. For sixteen days, from 18 June to 3 July, Lake Iseo in Italy was converted into a massive, magnificent art project called The Floating Piers.
“Like all our projects, The Floating Piers is absolutely free and accessible 24 hours a day, weather permitting,” said Christo. “There are no tickets, no openings, no reservations and no owners. The Floating Piers are an extension of the street and belong to everyone.”
The street extension came in the form of modular floating docks which comprised 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes affixed across the surface of the water and anchored by divers to concrete slabs on the lake’s bed. The walkways protruded just 35cm above the surface, and stretched for 3km. Draped across the 16m-wide top was 100,000-square-metres of sun-kissed fabric, which was then extended for a further 2.5km along the surrounding pedestrian routes of the villages of Sulzano and Peschiera Maragilo. It took more than half a year to build.
“The light and water will transform the bright yellow fabric to shades of red and gold,” said Christo. “Those who experience The Floating Piers will feel like they are walking on water — or perhaps the back of a whale.”
Forty thousand people were expected on the opening day, but 55,000 showed, and many had to be turned away (the pier could only hold 11,000 at a time). One hundred and fifty volunteers acted as safety guides and lifeguards, positioned along the piers and in boats.
The inspired location was discovered after months of scouring northern Italy’s lake regions, chosen in part due to the surrounding mountains which afforded a stunning view of the exhibition. The concept, however, was an old one.
The idea first came to Christo and his late Moroccan wife, Jeanne-Claude, also an artist, back in 1970. The pair, who were born on the same day — 13 June, 1935 — spent decades crafting wonderful and joyful public works of art, often left field and with an environmental slant. Fabric was often involved, too. Among their most memorable creations were the wrapping of Paris’ Pont Neuf in 1985, and a decade later, the wrapping of Reichstag in Berlin.
In 2009, Jeanne-Claude died. Christo told the Wall Street Journal that she, “cannot be substituted” or “reinvented” or “revived”.
His projects still bear both their names.
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces