For 16 days last month, visitors to Italy’s Lake Iseo were greeted by The Floating Piers, an installation designed by the Bulgarian-American artist Christo. The work, a system of floating, saffron-draped floating piers, allowed visitors to tour the lake on foot. An estimated 40,000 people walked the 4.5 kilometer-route each day, which ran through the town and onto the lake, from Sulzano to Monte Isola, and looping around the lsland of San Paolo.
Christo, who claims his work deals with the themes of temporality and nomadism, argued the piers were only one aspect of the project. The other aspects were the lake, the surrounding terrain, and “the sun, the rain, the wind.”
First conceived of by Christo and his now-deceased partner Jeanne-Claude in 1970, the project got legs in 2014 when Christo identified the lake 100 kilometers east of Milan as a suitably inspiring site. Other sites Christo considered were Tokyo Bay and the Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires.
It took a team of engineers, construction workers, and deep-sea divers 22 months to configure and install the project at Lake Iseo. Much of that time was spent engineering the cloth. According to Christo’s web site, Clandestine tests took place in Germany to address the project’s more nebulous questions: “What color should the fabric take on when wet? When dry? When sunlit? And how many extra meters of cloth would produce just the right amount of ruffles?”
All told, 100,000 square meters of the gold fabric was fitted to 4.5 kilometers of walkway. The floating docks were 53-feet wide and composed of over 200,000 high-density polyethylene cubes. The fabric was water-proof, stain resistant, and underlain with felt, giving shoeless visitors an extra thrill. Critics of the project have derided Christo for his flagrant use of materials. But he insists the materials were conscientiously disposed of — they were recycled at the conclusion of the piece.
The installation likely fulfilled, or came close to fulfilling, the dream of its visitors to walk on water, experiencing the lake as they never had. Visitors have likened it to traipsing on a water bed. Without having walked it, the photos of crisp gold lines drawn on the lake are breathtaking in their own right. Not evident in many of the pictures: the boat hands, life guards, and monitors who were present to help avert any problems.
The Floating Piers bears the hallmarks of the best Christo and Jeanne-Claude installations: Fabric seemingly absconded from a fine linen closet and set in an unexpected location; amid rolling hills for instance, or draped over a cliff face.
Perhaps Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s most recognizable project to date is The Gates, which was installed in Central Park in 2005. Like The Floating Piers, The Gates also used vibrant, gold-colored fabric to guide visitors along a path.
“I know these projects are totally irrational, totally useless,” Christo told The New York Times. “The world can live without them, nobody needs them, only me and Jeanne-Claude. She always made the point that they exist because we like to have them, and if others like them, it’s only a bonus.”
Sale of Christo’s original artwork is expected to cover the $16.8 million project costs.