WALKING ON WATER

For 16 days, from June 18th, Christo invited the public to walk for nearly two miles on water, atop 200,000 polyethylene cubes covered with 70,000 square metres of glittering yellow fabric fashioned from tightly woven nylon. The installation attracted over one million visitors.

The Floating Piers were a series of walkways, draped in yards of tangerine-gold linen, installed at the idyllic Lake Iseo near Brescia, Italy. The project was Christo’s first outdoor installation since 2005, when he and Jeanne-Claude, his collaborator and wife, placed 7,500 saffron-coloured panelled gates in Central Park, New York City. Many supposed that Christo had taken early retirement from both the art world and public view, following Jeanne-Claude’s death from a brain aneurysm in 2009. Instead, he had been quietly busy, juggling several projects at once before returning to take his place as one of the most important Environmental Artists since the ‘60s. Like several of his previous projects–which have sought to make the viewer reconsider familiar landscapes through immersive, multimedia installations–this 15 million euro project (£12.8 million), was funded through the sale of his original drawings and collages.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are known for wrapping sheaths of fabric around many of Italy’s iconic locations, including the Medieval Tower in Spoleto in 1968. This project was originally conceived two years later in 1970, but took a backseat to other projects and, later, Jeanne-Claude’s illness. Four decades later, Christo and his team began the planning and logistics for the final form of The Floating Piers. This part of the process was realised in 22 months – a record in the history of Christo’s projects, which usually take decades.

Like much of Christo’s other work, the piers drew attention to the surrounding landscape with their rapturous golden hue. “All the journey is the work of art,” Christo says. “And the most beautiful part of the floating piers is about the people walking nowhere. About the feeling of the surface of the land or the water. And your feet actually, many people walk barefoot. And they walk, they walk. It’s not like going to shop, not going to see your friends. It’s going really nowhere.”

I visited the piers on the final Saturday of the installation, along with tens of thousands of other visitors. After a long journey from Milan to Sultano, and a tense morning waiting for security to open the piers from closure due to adverse weather conditions, I finally walked barefoot across the lofty, golden walkways. The Floating Piers immersive qualities transcended the interactive. Shoes were optional, which made the experience all the more sublime as you could feel the gentle, rhythmic movement of the polyethylene cubes undulating with the current of the lake. As the water rippled and the edges of the piers dipped below surface level, the fabric was stained in a gradient from light to dark gold. I felt stable on my feet, just gently swaying with the swell of the water and yet I was acutely aware of the open space between myself and the lake.

The sensation of ‘walking on water’ was serenity itself and the accompanying visuals were similarly transcendent. From the surrounding mountains one could see the scorching mustard snake making its meandering path through the azure waters, creating graphic lines and dissecting the colours of the landscape. And from the piers themselves, picturesque views of the Italian countryside surrounded us.

Words and images by Maria McLintock